Mattbites Gift Guide 2012


Iit’s that time! And since we’re all in Giftland this month I wanted to add my personal favorites to all the holiday gift guides that are out there.

However, I wanted to let you know one little thing: this Gift Guide is not entirely food-focused but made up of the things I love. As in absolutely adore. No kind of ‘meh, they aiight” kind of gifts here but all things that I personally use and would give as gifts. Heck, many of them have been given as gift, and now that I am looking at it I’m realizing it’s pretty darn tech-y, if I do say so myself!

1. Empire Mayonnaise Company
Um, hello, jars of mayo as gifts? If they’re from Brooklyn’s own Empire Mayo Co. than yes. I was given a jar as a gift and I’ve been a repeat customer ever since. Do yourself a favor and try the Black Garlic Mayo. Earthy, creamy, full of the umami goodness you get from black garlic. My favorite way to eat this stuff is with French fries or on a sandwich made of big fat slices of soft bread, pieces of roasted chicken and ample amounts of mayo. Heaven.

2. Piebox
Adam was on a CB2 shoot in Chicago when he met Adrienne Blumthal. She is the creator of PieBox and when I saw it my jaw dropped: gorgeous raw pine, handcrafted into the perfect pie transportation system! I love ours, it always elicits the best oohs-and-ahhs and just gets better with use. If you love pie, well, you’re going to love Piebox.

3. Further
A chance handwashing post-pizza at Mozza left me obsessed with this soap. In fact, I got up from my table and walked back into the restroom to find out more about it. And that’s how my love affair started. But the best part is Further’s story:  made here in Los Angeles from waste grease from restaurants where it’s refined, processed, scented naturally then returned to the restrooms of restaurants from where it came. Can you believe it? But if you’re a scenthound like me it’ll be the gorgeous clean, aromatic scent of olive, bergamot and grasses that’ll hook you. I love this stuff!

4. Whitelines Note Book
As computery-and-social-media-Mac-y as I am, I am a HUGE writer. As in penmanship and paper, I am forever a copious notetaker.  I get antsy if I don’t have a way to jot down my ideas as I travel, as a way to take notes during pre-production calls, and to remind myself of the things that I tend to forget. Yes, I can remind myself electronically, but I actually love writing and I’ve got the handwriting to prove it, too! That’s where Whitelines come in, as I’m a fan of the lightly ruled paper that doesn’t distract.  And the paper itself is tinted a light grey which is easy on the eyes.

5. Travel Smart Conair Adapter
I’ve got a bag of strange adapters with missing parts, broken prongs and empty travel cases that accumulates every time I travel. Every Single Time. However, I’m pretty happy about this adapter, which came very highly recommended from a friend. All in one. Which is great since sometimes I don’t remember what I need when I travel and I no longer need to do the “what plug will I need for Asia/Australia/South America” google search.

6. Roku Streaming Projector
Oh goodness, how much do I love this gadget? Part Roku-box, part projector, it’s so small and compact, allowing me to put it into my bag and take places. Places where I want to take it out, hop onto a wifi signal, and fire up Roku and Netflix for instant movie times.  A part of me still feels it’s a novelty gadget, but I’m fine with that. It’s fun.

7. Fireside Candle from Anthropologie
I’m not much of a scented candle guy at home but there’s something about this candle from Anthropologie that’s drives me wild.  Notes of patchouli and cinnamon live slightly underneath cedar wood and smoke, and it smells like the world’s best fireplace. Plus I love the colors of the candle tin, making it a welcome addition to my office and living room.

8. K-tor Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator
I’m going to tell you one thing about me, and it’s embarrassing: I have this unnatural fear of not being able to charge my iphone.  I have a million chargers in every bag, in every place I work, not to mention a variety of battery packs tucked along the way. I purchased the K-Tor Pocket Socket Hand Crank Generator to add to my arsenal, and then something mighty awful happened called Hurricane Sandy. So many people were without power and unable to access their technological lifeline, and it made sense to me: I live in Earthquakelandia and this device will be added to my emergency supply kit. No, I’m not a Doomsday Prepper by any means, but I did grow up in Texas with hurricanes and it’s an easy thing to miss, that power thing. This handcrank generates electricity and can power a phone, ipad, digital camera, rechargeable light, etc. (but it does take work, fair warning). It could make a useful gift.

 9.  Joos Portable Solar Charger
Ok, so see item #8. But I swear I purchased this for that camping trip I have yet to take, but no matter, I love this thing. Especially here where it’s sunny, all it takes is 1 hour of sun to charge my iphone and ipad.  It’s so easy to use, constructed well, and I can use it just about anywhere.

10. The Strongheart Fellowship Program and the Akawelle Necklace
I met one of the founders of the Strongheart Fellowship Program on a photoshoot recently and was quite captivated by their mission. They identify the most resilient, brightest young people that have been affected and displaced by the world’s conficts and brings them together in a safe place to learn, heal, nurture and excel. I was given a necklace created by Lovetta Conto of Liberia, who creates a line called Akawelle Jewelry of leaf pendants made from spent shell casings that were fired during the war. To take something from such a violent act and turn it into a thing of beauty is to be reminded that it’s “possible for new life to arise from something as terrible as war”, as Lovetta says herself.

 11. Chevron Napkins from Pine Cone Hill
I am obsessed with these napkins. Bold and graphic with a wonderful weight, they photograph beautifully but of course that’s not why I plan on giving them to friends this holiday season. They’re just bright and cheerful, and the orange rocks my socks. Thanks to Pine Cone Hill for sending me samples!

12. Fifty One And A Half Ceramics
Full Disclosure: Yes, those plates in the photo actually say “mattbites” because the wonderful Monika Dalkin made them for me. She is the mother of my bestie Gaby of WhatsGabyCooking and a very wonderful artist. Her pieces not only photograph well but make superb gifts, for the plate-lover or ceramics-collector in your life. They make me happy.

13. X-Rite Photo ColorChecker Passport
There’s this thing in digital photography called Color Temperature, which is the scale in which light is measured. It’s sometimes blueish in color, sometimes yellow, depending on the light source and environmental conditions. This tool allows photographers to set their color temperature to a neutral point by snapping a photo of it and adjusting it in camera or computer. And when you shoot with natural daylight in a variety of conditions, it’s important. In fact, I never travel without this little hard case swatch of colors. It’s a great tool (and gift!) for photographers.

 14. Anything From American Spoon
First, this catalog. OH MAN THIS CATALOG. It’s beautiful. Second, their products. Their artisanal fruit preserves, spreads and condiments from Northern Michigan are so well loved and revered that you cannot go wrong sending anything from them to your friends and family. I love them. I love Michigan.

15.  Grado Labs SR 80 Headphones
It couldn’t only be the retro minimalist styling of these headphones that grabs me, it’s their sound, too. And I was on a mission to find a pair of great-sounding headphones for under $150 (because yes, they can be expensive!). Crisp treble, deep base, light and comfortable, these work great at home or on the road as their light and easy to store. Definitely a nice treat for a music lover on your list.

16. C Salt Gourmet’s Pistachio Cherry Chocolate and Pine Nut Pistachio Brittle
This hometown product from Long Beach, California, was a revelation the first time I tried it. As far as brittles go, it’s hands down my favorite these days. You can email C Salt for special orders or find it locally in Southern California at a handful of retailers. You’ll love it, trust me.

17.  Focus On Food Photography For Bloggers
Excuse me, could you pick up that Shameless Plug I just dropped? Right there, behind you. Thanks. Now, forgive me for saying so, but there’s this book that someone just wrote about creating food photographs for blogs. And the book, while aimed at bloggers, has tons of tips and examples that not only apply to the beginners but to everyone else. And it’s cute and little and was written and photographed out of love. For you. And for anyone else that might appreciate reading about food photography. I’m pretty sure the author will thank you for buying it.



Drunk The Halls

My phone kept beepin’ n blippin’ last week as my episode with Paula Deen was on holiday repeat. I am officially a RERUN (and all I need is Shurl and Dee, bonus points if you get it). Repeating isn’t so bad, and if it was good once then it should be good twice, as they say. SHALIMAR! Good lord I need more coffee. Where was I going? Oh yes. This. This post from 2006 is an oldie-but-goodie and since I still have a growing collection of corks it might be time for Wreath Number 2, the 2012 edition. I’m gonna get on that. Cheers!

I am married to the craftiest man on earth. He can prepare anything in the kitchen, decorate as if his life depended on it, coordinate classically (even covered in tattoos, I might add), walk in 6-inch acrylic heels (I cannot) and paint a face like nobody’s business. There’s really not much he can’t do, so when he mentioned an idea he saw for holiday wreaths using wine corks I knew I was in for a special treat. Tacky? Yes. Ingenious? Absolutely. Luckily for him I drink wine on a daily basis so there’s no shortage of corks here! Next I hope he builds a greenhouse for me in the backyard with all the bottles I’ve emptied enjoyed–or at least a pretty little scaled down Taj Mahal that extends from our backyard in LA County to the bottom tip of the Baja Peninsula.

All you need are:
a wino husband
lots of corks (he used 151)
a gluegun
wreath frame, found in craft stores

Put on some Jimmy Smith or Vince Guaraldi, skewer corks with toothpicks and dab the end with glue and insert into wreath frame. Stand back, admire, and realize that you are now out of corks and must immediately replenish your supply.

Spicy Curry Butternut Squash

I’m not going to do that apology thing that us bloggers usually do. You know what I mean (because I’ve done it a million times before):

 “So sorry I haven’t written/blogged/posted! I’ve been so inundated with work/family/my book/intergalactic atomic particle transportation/etc.” No, I’m not going to say that. I am going to own up to the fact that I haven’t been blogging much and I’m pretty sure this will explain why.


Yea, I’ve been on the road. And there aren’t enough hashtags in the world to explain why. I’m looking forward to being in Los Angeles, happy enough to celebrate the holidays at home. Just as long as my Australian jet lag wears off.

Much more on that later!

Australia, I mean. Not my jetlag.

I came home to Adam testing recipes for one of his favorite clients. When recipes are tested at home, Matt Armendariz gets happy. I get to eat all the things Adam makes and honestly they’re always delicious. Sometimes a bit mixmatchy if he’s testing different things altogether but who’s complaining? Not me. As it turns out, he had leftover butternut squash, a bowl of jalapeños and a few onions. Things got chopped up, tossed with some Spice Islands Curry Powder (the folks at SI are my friends so I’m going to plug them as much as possible!) and salt, then roasted.

And it was such a delightful simple side that I forced asked him to write a recipe for me so we could share it. Because honestly, it’s a very easy simple side that I can imagine will be wonderful with roasted chicken, roasted meat, pork chops, some sausages, just about anything full-flavored enough to pair with the curry sweetness. I think the secret ingredient is roasted jalapeños; they become soft and sweet until the heat kicks in. And it’s delightful.

This is now one of my new favorite things to eat!

 Spicy Curry Butternut Squash with Roasted Jalapeños

2 lbs butternut squash cut into 1-inch cubes
4 jalapeños cut in half and seeded
1 large sweet onion cut into 1/8ths
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Spice Islands Spicy Curry Powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon cracked black pepper

1. Pre-heat oven to 425˚.  Place butternut squash, jalapeños and onion in a large mixing bowl and drizzle them with olive oil,  tossing to coat. Sprinkle curry powder and salt and pepper and toss to coat.

2. Place on baking sheet and roast in oven for 30-45 minutes, until soft and caramelized. stirring halfway through.  Remove from oven and serve hot.

P.S. I posted this on Facebook but wanted to share it here. The perils of photographing at home and not the studio! (by the way, Bindi is our 3 lb dog)



Butternut Squash Tarte Tatin

Oh this little butternet squash tarte tatin, how much do I love you? Enough to have you three times over the past few weeks, all for the sake of “recipe testing”, you know.

And honestly, this upside-down tart is probably one of the best things I’ve had all season, if I do say so myself.

Sweet butternut squash is roasted and then placed on top of caramel in a baking pan. The whole thing is covered with puff pastry and baked, and when it’s ready you invert the whole thing onto a plate and just go for it. I’ve tried to be nice when eating this but you can’t, it just disappears so fast. It was a hit during our Friendsgiving last Sunday, but in a quick misfire of timing and communication it landed on the table during the meal and not as dessert. You know what? It didn’t matter. It was sweet and buttery, perfect with Gaby’s stuffing and just about everything else that afternoon.

Honestly, I do think you’ll love it.

Butternut Squash Tarte Tatin serves 8

4 cups butternut squash cut into 1-inch cubes
1–2 tablespoons canola oil
a pinch of salt
¼ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
¼ tsp. cinnamon
a dash of nutmeg
1 (about 8-oz) sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

For the squash: heat oven to 400˚F. Toss the squash cubes in 1–2 tablespoons of canola oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and roast until tender, about 30-35 minutes, turning once during baking to insure even cooking and browning. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool while you make the caramel.

With the oven still at 400˚F, move the oven rack to the top position.

Melt butter over medium heat in a nonstick skillet, stir in sugar and cook until golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes, swirling skillet often. Stir in cinnamon and nutmeg; pour caramel into an 8-inch by 8-inch baking pan. Place roasted squash over caramel. Unfold the puff pastry over the squash and fold any excess pastry down the sides of the pan and under. Prick the pastry with a fork all over and place in already hot oven for 30 minutes. Let cool for 5 minutes, then invert onto a serving plate, being careful not to burn yourself. It’s hot! Cut and serve. It’s fantastic with crème fraiche, ice cream or a nice dollop of whipped cream. Or as is. I’m not picky.

Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! Hope you have a fantastic holiday tomorrow!

Dorie Greenspan’s Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots

Thanksgiving mode has officially begun at our house. And I love it.  We’re currently ramping up for T.D.R.F.T.W.W.S.O.T.A, or “Thanksgiving Dress Rehearsal For Those We Won’t See On Thanksgiving, Actually.” It’s our 3rd year, let me explain the concept: we host a sit-down Thanksgiving meal any time during the month of November before the actual day. The table is set, the turkey is cooked, and it’s a chance to make the dishes you’ve never made before and give them a trial run before running off to your real Thanksgiving event. Basically, it’s Thanksgiving times two and while it seems like double-duty it actually allows us to see our friends that already have family commitments.  Scratch your head, I know what you’re thinking: Thanksgiving is crazy enough, why would I want to do it twice? See, here’s the thing: having a trial run is fun, low key and just feels different. More like a dinner party. And when the big day comes you know what we do? We get out of the house and visit friends and family, bringing the dishes we’ve tested and know will be enjoyed by everyone.

This year there’s one recipe that I knew wouldn’t need any testing because it comes from Dorie Greenspan’s new book, Around My French Table: More Than 300 Recipes from My Home to Yours. There’s a reason why it’s #1 on Amazon and the New York Times Bestseller list. I want to sleep with it under my pillow. I’m sure we all do the same thing when looking through cookbooks: we flip through, saying to ourselves “Oh, I’ll make this!” before flipping through 5 or 20 pages before saying it again. However, with Dorie’s book I find myself saying that on every page, with every recipe, and it’s clearly going to be a problem for me. One giant delicious problem. Back back to Thanksgiving. I’m serving her recipe because I love carrots as a side dish, they add color to the table as well as that sweetness that goes well with just about anything. And any chance I can get to add vegetables I’ll go for it. Dorie’s recipe is simple yet flavorful thanks to the generous amount of ginger, some garlic and cardamom seeds. It just tastes like the holidays, a phrase I’m not sure I can explain.

Spiced Butter-Glazed Carrots from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table

I am obsessed with this book and will tell anyone who will listen to me that I feel like it was written just for me. Of course I know this isn’t true but it will now live on my shelf of “forever” books: the ones that I will always keep near me.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 ½-inch fresh ginger, peeled and then sliced thin
1 garlic clove, split with the germ removed and then sliced thin
seeds from 4 cardamon pods, bruised slightly in mortar and pestle or with back of chef’s knife
salt and freshly ground white pepper
12 medium carrots (about 1 ½ pounds), trimmed, peeled and cut on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces
1 cup chicken broth

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. Stir in the chopped onion, ginger, garlic and cardamon seeds, season very lightly with salt and white pepper and cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots and stir to coat them with the butter. Pour in the chicken broth and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover the saucepan and cook until the carrots are tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the cover, raise the heat, and cook until the broth almost evaporates completely, leaving the spiced butter glazing on the carrots. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Dorie says these are best served soon after they are prepared but can be refrigerated overnight and gently reheated the next day. When I made these at home that’s exactly what I did the day after with my leftovers and they were just as delicious. I love this recipe.

Special thanks to Dorie for reprinting permission. Please buy this book, it’s phenomenal!