Winter Citrus

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winter citrus collage
Originally uploaded by MatthewA.
If you're anything like me, your relationship with citrus fruits usually went no further than the occasional twist in a martini or fresh lime juice for homemade margaritas (do you see a pattern here?). Sure, they add zip and zing to just about everything, have been used by people the world over for hundreds of years and prevented traveling sailors from coming down with that awful Barlow's disease, but seriously folks, how exciting could citrus fruits REALLY be?

It was a work assignment a few years ago that made me fall in love with winter citrus.
I had to put together a small winter citrus guide, complete with recipes, history, varieties and flavor profiles. I ate my way through cases of Meyers, crates of clementines, bags of pomelos, devouring key limes and kumquats and everything in between. Rest assured this boy wasn't ever gettin' scurvy, that's for damn sure. What developed after that project (along with a permanent sour puckerface) was a true appreciation of citrus. I experimented in the kitchen, testing and making things like Texas Grapefruit Pie ('twas horrible, don't ask, and I'm even from Texas), homemade limoncello, Moroccan-style preserved lemons, Mexican candied orange slices, satsuma dressing, grapefruit pomander, the list goes on. I squeezed, juiced, zested and baked myself to a Vitamin C nirvana. Some things were quite delicious, other recipes were ruined by citrus' uncanny ability to bully just about everything else it comes in contact with. Live and learn, live and learn.

The color of citrus fruits only develop in climates with a cool winter, which is why a huge percentage of American grown citrus comes from California, Texas and Florida. Winter citrus is beginning to trickle in now, and some of the more unique varieties are coming to market as we speak, so it's time to get in the kitchen and start experimenting. Out of everything I tested, one salad recipe became a favorite in our house, and during the peak of winter citrus season I can't help but prepare this at least three times a week. I'm obsessed with it. My friends laugh at me and wonder how on earth something so simple can yield such spectacular flavors, but come on people, it's from Alice Waters, one of the pioneers of fresh, simple California cuisine. If you make this and don't like it, well, I just don't know what to tell you. You'll make me sad.


Alice Waters's Avocado, Grapefruit, and Curly Endive Salad with Citrus Dressing

6 small heads curly endive
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
1 lemon
1 orange
Salt
2 grapefruit
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 avocados


Wash and spin dry the curly endive. For this salad, use only the
blanched hearts and save the green leaves for cooking greens.

Peel the shallot and dice it fine. Let macerate with the vinegar, 1
tablespoon each of lemon juice and orange juice, and a pinch of salt.

Cut away the grapefruit peel, all the pith below, and the membrane
around the grapefruit flesh. Then cut the sections free, carefully
slicing along the membranes. Peel a little lemon and orange zest and
finely chop enough to make about 1/4 teaspoon of each.

When you are ready to assemble the salad, whisk the olive oil into the
shallot mixture. Add the orange and lemon zest and taste. Add more
olive oil or lemon juice if necessary. Cut the avocados in half
lengthwise. Remove the pits. Using a sharp knife, cut the avocados
into lengthwise slices about the same size as the grapefruit sections,
keeping the skin on. Scoop out the slices with a large spoon. Toss the
curly endive and grapefruit sections in a bowl with about two thirds
of the dressing. Taste the salad and add more salt if necessary.
Arrange on a platter or individual dishes. Distribute the avocado
alongside the endive and grapefruit, season them with a pinch of salt,
and drizzle the rest of the dressing over them.

Serves 6


Matt's notes: I prefer bibb lettuce (also known as Butter or Boston Lettuce), as the endive texture can be a bit too curly and then you have dressing all over your mouth. Oh heck, just skip the greens altogether and eat the grapefruit and avocado tossed in the dressing. Lord knows I've done that a thousand times.


Norman

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Norman
Originally uploaded by MatthewA.
A question I often get asked when talking with friends about my work is “You seriously really use a food stylist? What on earth do they do and can I get that job”? Well folks, it’s true – there are people that get paid (quite handsomely, I must add) to make everything you see in photos and on television look picture perfect. A common misconception is that it’s all trickery, that a stylist’s toolkit is filled with rubber, foam, fake food and dulling spray; well, those are only a few things in there. It’s a fascinating career, requiring the skills of a chef, a stylist, a magician and a whole lot of patience. I sat down with Norman Stewart, a friend and a food stylist that I work with to ask him a few questions about his career and working with food.

Norman is quite a character, to say the least. Born and raised in Britain, Normal started culinary school at the age of 16, realizing at an early age that French cuisine was his passion. After graduation he spent over 10 years as a private chef on a 67-million dollar yacht (don’t you feel sorry for him now?), sailing the world and feeding celebrities, dignitaries, art dealers and royalty. He gave up the sea and moved to New York where a chance meeting with a photographer introduced him to the world of food styling and he’s been doing it ever since.

Norman’s work in print and broadcast is extensive, and he’s worked with some of the world’s leading photographers on campaigns. He currently has a centerspread in this month’s Vanity Fair magazine featuring the cast of Nip/Tuck and a very wobbly turkey. You may also know his work from the Got Milk? Campaign. Who else do you think paints those milk mustaches on celebrities?

Q. Norman, you’ve been a food stylist for 12 years. Who have you worked with?

Bon Apetit magazine, Gourmet magazine, Target, K Mart, Vanity Fair magazine, anywhere there’s food in a shot I’ve probably done it.

Q. What do you enjoy the most about your job?

I get the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing photographers. Annie Liebowitz, David La Chapelle, Norman Jean Roy, to name a few. I worked with Herb Ritts for many years before he passed away.

Q. You work in Los Angeles and New York City. With all your knives and tools, how do you get your toolkit through airport security?

I only travel with a small few essentials; the rest I buy when I get there.

Q. What are your current projects?

Well, I just finished another Got Milk campaign in New York featuring Elle McPherson and recently did an album cover for a reissue of a Herb Alpert CD. Do you know the cover of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights”? It was a recreation of that image, but I decided to use shaving cream on the model. Oh, the places I had to make sure it covered! I had my fingers EVERYWHERE!

(It’s at this point that Norman, in his very animated style, tells me where he had to apply the shaving cream and then uses a string of very “interesting” words. My mom reads my blog, so out of respect, let’s just say it was pretty graphic and hilarious.)

Q. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve had to do as a stylist?

It was an album cover for Meat Loaf, the singer. I had to make a steak as big as a pool table. It was made out of tons of cut steaks glued together and then covered in fake blood. It was absolutely disgusting.

It sure sounds like it.


A Jump Start On The New Year's Resolution

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donuts
Originally uploaded by MatthewA.
(a/k/a yea right but I gotta try anyway)


I thought I'd try to get a tiny little jumpstart on the new year by revisiting and rediscovering my gym membership. I've put on an undisclosed amount of weight (twenty pounds but you didn't hear that from me) ever since getting married and after a recent clean bill of health from my doc I figured I should do something about it.

Of course diet and proper nutrition fits into the losing-weight equation. I don't eat terribly; in fact, I'm not a big fast food person. But when you are around food, day in and day out, testing recipes and tasting new things, well, it gets hard to discipline oneself.

I've compiled a list of things that won't be a part of my world in the next few months.

1. DONUTS
OH MY GOD I LOVE DONUTS! I LOVE THEM I DO I DO!!! But as far as sweets go they just aren't the smartest choice, simply not enough bang for their caloric buck. Goodbye, Krispy Kreme.

2. BEEF
It may be what's for dinner, but not MY dinner. I've got a cholesterol level to keep in check, and after last summer's trip to Argentina I've already made my annual quota for beef consumption.

3. CARBONATED SODA BEVERAGES.
I actually don't drink Coke or Pepsi or Sprite at all but I wanted to put something on my list that I could easily adhere to.

4. SAMOSAS
See, life just ain't fair, y'all. I've recently discovered a take-away Indian restaurant that is directly between my home and office and they have amazing, delicious samosas that I love and dream about and want to hug. They're truly that good. I guess I'll find a new route to work.

THINGS I PROMISE TO EAT MORE OF:
1. Raw vegetables
2. Nuts
3. Brown Rice
4. Salmon, especially during peak seasons
5. Beets

Hey! I just noticed something! If I add cheese to numbers 1-5 I might actually stick to it my list. YAY I am so happy now!


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Burrata

(The following is a short piece I wrote last year after tasting burrata for the first time. What's scary is that the only way I could stop myself from eating it everyday was to write about it. I'm currently in Burrata recovery and celebrating my 12-month anniversary. I think I'm gonna be just fine.)


An Open Letter To My Paramour

I don't really know the best way to address this, so I guess I'm going to jump right in. I've been relatively silent about this because I didn't want to hurt your feelings, but I can't keep this bottled up inside me a moment longer.

I want to break up with you.

Please, just hear me out. I want independence, I want to move on, I want to be free to see others, and above all you must know it's no reflection on you. In fact, I'll only speak good things about you to family and friends, and I'll remember our times with a smile on my face.

Burrata, I remember the day I met you like it was yesterday. Until that point I'd never met a cheese like you; a fresh milk cheese with a soft, buttery center made from fresh cream and unspun mozzarella curds, all living inside that luscious firm mozzarella casing. You really knocked me off my socks that first time. Never had I met a cheese so young, so fresh, so relatively new. It was love at first sight. And taste.

Our first few dates were simply amazing and they are times that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Do you remember that time this past summer we hung out with those heirlooms and olive oil? Absolutely delicious. Or how about that time we met up with those toasted filberts and haricot vert? Magical. But the best times we had were just us alone, extra ingredients not allowed. I realized I didn't need anyone else but you and I think that's where things went south.

Please don't take this the wrong way, but I kind of feel suckered into your charm and good taste. Sure, our dates 3 or 4 times a week were fine at first, but I just can't do it anymore. Do you realize the pressure your 5-day shelf life puts on me? Do you even know that I've been totally ignoring all other cheeses since we met? I'd usually hang out at least once a week with Zamorano and Cabrales, but I've all but shunned them for you. Stilton won't even return my phone calls. And I know for a fact that Dry Jack wouldn't even consider me a friend anymore. I'm not telling you this to make you turn sour, I'm only saying it because I want you to realize the powerful hold you had on me and my tastebuds. But not anymore.

I know this isn't easy and we're bound to run into each other in the future. Please know that I don't have any bad feelings about you, in fact I do look forward to seeing you at the occasional dinner and cheese tray. And if those sweet, fresh milky memories come flooding back into my heart, go easy on me. With your flavor, it's the least you can do.

I'll always love you, my sweet Burrata.

Matt


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Yet Another Food Blog?

Well folks, I'm afraid so. You see, after years of failed (read: lazy) attempts at blogging I have decided to give it one last shot. I won't even pretend to to come close to the upper echelon of food bloggers that bring us delicious tidbits on a regular basis. Instead, this blog will be about the things that strike my fancy, food news and products and menus that I encounter on a daily basis, in regular life and my travels. I do hope you'll enjoy it, and for god's sakes, leave comments and say hello!

About me...
I've been a professional food-freak for over 15 years, starting my career in marketing with Whole Foods Market in the early 1990s. I've since moved on, all the while wearing many hats (writer, creative director, art director, recipe tester, stylist and photographer, to name a few). I'm still in the food business, loving each and every day. I get to taste, write and dream about food...what's not to love about that?

I'm a very lucky boy.


About me

  • I'm Matt Armendariz
  • From Los Angeles, California
  • A man with a passion for good food and a wonderful life with a dash of irreverence. Read at your own risk. Advertising director by day, wino by night. All photos on this site by Matt Armendariz.
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