Dreaming of Spain

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My love affair with Spain borders on the absurd; tears form in my eyes when I talk about my past visits, when I email or call my Spanish friends I'm always left choked up, and eating anything Spanish at home only serves to temporarily satisfy me but always leaves me longing for more.

This longing is exacerbated by the fact that Spain has been in the culinary hot seat for several years running now. But I'm certainly not complaining. One can't open a magazine or talk about food trends without acknowledging Spain's strong pull, and one need not look any further than WD-50 or Alinea to feel the influence of Roses' El Bulli.

Grocery shelves are being filled with Spanish items like never before, from Marcona Almonds to Zamorano cheese to Sherries and Riojas. And they're all hot sellers, too.

This is great for fans of Spanish cuisine, but what makes it all the more painful is the fact that for some time some of Spain's best foods could not legally be imported into the United States. Because there was not a Spanish slaughterhouse and curing facility that met the US Department of Agriculture's standards, items like chorizos and Jamón Iberico could not legally be imported in the United States. There have been a few American facilities like La Tienda of Williamsburg, Virginia and La Española of Los Angeles making Spanish foods, and while they're of the highest quality and quite delicious, there's nothing like the real thing.

Luckily, the Spanish and American governments have approved the first facility in Spain that will produce Spanish hams for domestic importing. We're still about a year away from tasting true Jamón on American soil, but what a happy and delicious day that will finally be. I'm bound to start crying all over again.

Pa Amb Tomaquet
Why is it some of life's greatest pleasures are the most basic? Out of everything I ate in Spain the first time I visited that I just can't stop eating regularly is Pa Amb Tomquet, known as Catalan tomato bread. It can be enjoyed on its own or served with anchovies, serrano ham, manchego cheese or capers. It's simplicity at its finest and always hits the spot.

Ingredients
4 slices of thick French bread, a good crusty kind
1 very ripe tomato, sliced in half
1 clove of garlic, peeled and halved
extra virgin olive oil, to drizzle
sea salt

Method
Toast the slices by grilling or in a toaster. Rub the toasted slices with garlic halves and tomato halves. You want to really work the tomato into the bread, leaving you with a moist, pink surface. Discard the tomatoes, drizzle the toast with olive oil and sea salt and enjoy immediately.


Pizza On The Grill

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Pizza. It's such a subjective food. In this country I've seen the discussion of thin crust versus deep crust turn violent. I've seen people terminate friendships over toppings. And I've seen intelligence whittle down to one-syllable expletives over the origin of pizza. It's a battle that I quietly and politely escape, watching from the sidelines, offering nothing more than silence.

I'll keep my mouth shut, thank you very much.

Of course if you ask me I'll happily tell you, in detail, that my favorite type of pizza involves the thinnest of crusts, no more than 3 toppings usually, baked quickly in the highest of temperatures. To me, pizza doesn't have to be a 40-minute affair that's baked in a pan big enough for paella, deep-dished to high heaven with 13 pounds of sausage and peppers and enough gooey cheese to clog the arteries of a small army. Don't get me wrong, I lived in Chicago for many years and can eat my weight in deep dish. But at home it's a different story.

It wasn't until my first few visits to Europe that I realized how spontaneous, how simple and pleasurable a small, quick pizza can be. However, recreating the perfect crust and combination of unique ingredients proved to be a bit challenging. I was willing to give up the experience of eating with friends while staring into the Mediterranean ocean and drinking wine (somehow my backyard doesn't quite compare), but damnit, I wasn't going to give up the flavor. I was on a mission.

Three ovens, 4 pizza stones and two BBQ grills later I do believe I've come close.

It's all about the grill.

As it turns out, pizzas baked in high temperatures and dry heat taste the best. There's a reason why pizzas are baked in big brick and stone ovens, and until I win the lottery and have one installed in my home, I'm sticking with my BBQ grill. BBQ Grills reach a much higher temperature than home ovens, and it's this temperature that makes all the difference in a thin, crunchy delicious crust or a sad, chewy one. And in case your wondering, no, it doesn't make your pizza taste like a big giant BBQ'd slab of ribs, but come to think of it, that wouldn't be all that bad!

Pizza protocol for outdoor grilling is a slight bit different. You can't simply load up toppings on your crust and call it a day. No, it doesn't work that way. A grilled pizza crust must be brushed with olive oil, grilled quickly until nice large bubbles appear, carefully flipped and repeated. You'll have to really keep an eye on it too, as it only takes a few minutes over medium heat. Once you've done this you can place your toppings on the crust, but I'm not that daring. I remove the crust from the grill and add my ingredients off of the flame. Ouch.



If you're using sauce, it pays to heat it up a little bit before it hits the crust. Add your ingredients, and remember that less is definitely more. Once dressed, place back on grill, close the cover and cook for 3-5 minutes. Check underneath the pizza after a few minutes for desired doneness. The crust should be a nice, brown color. And if you're using herbs, they can be placed on top right before serving so that they don't become back and burned. (Although I've noticed that due to the high heat of the grill and the very short cooking time it's ok to add herbs before grilling. They'll be just fine.)

I'm not an exact type of cook and that is why these are all basic guidelines without a recipe. Besides, everyone has their favorite dough recipe and preference for pizza toppings. After all, it's fun to experiment, isn't it? If you make a mistake (as I have thousands of times), well, just eat it. You'll be too busy to argue about the history of the pizza with your mouth full.


Eating It All

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"You can't be an art critic and not like yellow. The Tibetans train themselves to like everything equally. Being unable to get pleasure from a large variety of foods is akin to only being able to have sex in strange circumstances."

My my my. I've been at this blogging thing for a few months now, and I am so completely humbled by the emails and comments and connections I've made. It's a dream come true to connect with others from all over the world who are passionate and fanatical about food. It's great.

However (there's always a big however, it seems), as I peruse and absorb food blogs from all over the world, one thing strikes me as peculiar, odd, and just plain creepy: the avoidance of a certain ingredient or type of cuisine.

"Things she will not eat: raw tomatoes" (or insert gelatinous fish or tripe or aspic or stinky cheese, what have you)

"I can't stand Chinese food" (if this person is referring to the msg-laden Chinese-American restaurant food then I understand. Have they any idea of the breadth of Chinese cuisine? Tsk tsk)

"Raw oysters freak me out. It's a texture thing."

Man, I don't get it. Barring food allergies, sensitivities to certain ingredients and personal ethics, I can't for the life of me think of avoiding anything in the sake of flavor and taste, let alone not trying it at least once. Of course I have preferences for certain ingredients (my palate has an affinity towards strong, intensely flavored foods), but to skip something just because of texture or mental roadblock really confuses me.

Full disclosure: I don't care for marzipan. I'll eat it but it's not my favorite thing. The compounds in artichokes cause my lips to swell, but that doesn't stop me. Live crickets, chicken feet and cow eyes aren't on the top of my delicious list, but sure, I've had them and enjoyed them. If we are to really savor life and experience new things, well, why draw that invisible line in the sand?

What won't you eat and why?


Blue Cheeses

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For those who scoff at the very idea of blue cheese (let alone the aroma and taste), I say too bad for you. You're missing one of life's greatest, most flavorful pleasures. Yes, you really are. No, I don't need to hear how it tastes strange, how it makes you feel as if you're eating soap, how it's too strong, how it's simply too weird, nope. Don't wanna hear it. You see, some of us embrace all the things that others may not like; it's the intensity, the explosion of flavor, the history, and –most importantly– the penicillium roquefortii that we crave.

And boy do we crave it.

Let's go back a few years. As with many of the world's great culinary treasures, the discovery of blue cheese is the subject of legends. We do know this: someone along the way (some say a shepherdess) left some cheese in the caves of Roquefort, came back and found it teeming with bacteria. Sounds scary, doesn't it? Absolutely, and I'd like to buy her a beer!

Today, blue cheese is made by injecting bacteria into cheese and letting nature do its thing. Sometimes it comes from a starter batch and mixed in. It's this bacteria that gives it its blue-veined appearance, and in the case of some of my favorites, a blueish-green hue. And blue cheese is truly a global product, being made all over the world.

So go ahead, make that face. You know the one. The one that says you can't stand it. That face you make when you could care less about hiding your disdain for blues. Because according to my sources, Americans purchased and consumed over 52 million pounds of domestic and imported blue cheese last year alone; I think I'm in pretty good company.

* * *

What turned out to be a short blurb about one of my favorite blues turned into something much longer as I cannot help but sing the praises of blue cheeses. Below are a few of my favorites that I've been eating as of late.


Shaft's Ellie's Vintage 2 Year Aged Blue
Get this: this cheese is born in Wisconsin, brought to California and aged for 2 years in an old gold mine tucked in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Wow. Yowza. Holy smokes. How this cheese can be aged for that long and yield a creamy, tender bite is beyond me.

Rogue Creamery Smokey Blue
Awarded the coveted Best New Product in the World Award at the Specialty Food Trade Food Show in New York, Oregon's Rogue's Smokey Blue is so mindblowingly fantastic that you can't help but swoon and feel lightheaded from the first bite. This traditional blue is smoked overnight in hazelnut shells, resulting in a pale straw-colored creamy cheese whose bite is balanced by the flavor of smoke. Such a beautiful cheese.

Cabrales
"One of the world's most striking cheeses" says the importer of this famous blue that takes its name from the town where it's made. Made from cow's milk and sometimes a mix of sheep or goat's milk, Cabrales in undeniably Spanish. It's a bit sour and tart, and when I want to melt a blue this is the one I grab. Made in limited quantities using traditional farmhouse methods. When I die I hope my soul goes to Asturias.

Bleu d'Auvergne
From Southeastern France, this blue is creamier than Roquefort and is utterly delicious. Give me a baguette, a hunk of this, a pear and I'll be on my way, thankyouverymuch.

Point Reyes Original Blue
Is it the California coastal fog? Is it the raw milk from the cows that graze on the land? Is it the salty Pacific Breezes? It's most likely a perfect combination of all of the above that make Point Reyes Original Blue cheese so utterly delicious, not to mention California's only classic style blue cheese. This is the blue cheese that I give to friends who aren't quite sold on blues. It's clean, always consistently delicious and has a wonderful firm texture. I think I'll go enjoy a bite right now - it's always in our fridge.


So Stylin'

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I spend anywhere from 3 to 6 days every month art directing photo shoots for work. If basic math serves me correctly that's about 72 days a year. Each day lasts around 10 hours, and that adds up to around 720 hours. Seven hundred twenty hours. 720 hours of standing around, fussing, getting splattered, primping and playing with food. 720 hours of lighting decisions, camera angles and correct cropping. And 720 hours spent with a food stylist.

I've written about food stylsts before in my blog, hoping to shed some light on a fascinating yet under-appreciated skill in the food industry. Their jobs go unrecognized, yet their work is all you see. They make the foods and the drinks you see appealing, appetizing, delicious and, most importantly, sellable. They lug around the ubiquitous 4-ton tackle box that's ready to go at the drop of a hat. They have the patience of Job, the skill set of a chef, the ability to work under a ridiculously insane amount of pressure, satisfying every whim of the oftentimes fickle Art Director. They're the ones that make me look good. And they do all this with a smile on their face.

(Well, most of the time they do.)

A good food stylist is a wonderful ally; a great food stylist is indispensable. The truly successful food stylists can command a pretty penny for their day rate, but when you break it down, it' s worth it. One bad move or lack of preparation on a stylist's part can be a headache as it only slows down the photographer and the shoot. And that is certainly no fun.

I've seen stylists create an elegant still life diorama out of ugly cheese, fashion a thirst-quenching margarita without ice, and prepare an thanksgiving meal in 20 minutes - thanks to their tools of the trade. No, I'm not saying it's slight of hand or an effort to fool the consumer, but it certainly is magic. And it's fascinating.

To my friends and food stylists, I thank you for making my world beautiful and delicious. I love you guys.

Endless hugs and gratitude go to the amazing Beth of Food Fanatics for the best looking cocktail shots I could ever dream of. You are amazing!


Corzo: Tequila Goes Upscale

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Two alcohol postings in a row? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's been that kind of week.

I must admit that it was the stellar packaging that first drew me to Corzo tequila. Bold, elegant, reminiscent of a giant perfume bottle with an off-center spout, Corzo's bottle and packaging materials stand out from the rest of the run-of-the-mill tequila bottles. And in a highly competitive spirits market this is important. (As a side note, the designer in me uttered the usual "but of course!" when I learned that the entire packaging was designed by star designer-to-the-fashion-industry Fabien Baron.)

Corzo is a super-premium tequila from Bacardi. While on a tour and meeting with Bacardi years ago in Miami for a small freelance assignment I learned that the world's largest, privately held family-owned spirits company didn't have a successful tequila brand in their portfolio. It was hard to comprehend. No tequila? After a few years in development it looks as if Corzo will attempt to change that.

The process of making tequila isn't easy. It's long, labor intensive and oftentimes results in inferior products. It's no wonder why people clutch their foreheads and say "no tequila, please". But the truth is, just like everything else, quality does matter. Corzo uses only the heart of the agave plant from the Los Altos region of the State of Jalisco, Mexico's primary agave growing region. Corzo features twice the agave per liter than other premium tequilas. In fact, it's the only tequila I know of that distills after aging, resulting in a smooth, refined taste that begs to be sipped and savored.

Ok, it's beautifully designed, backed by the big wallets of Bacardi, and made by a patented process. But how does it taste? Even better than it looks, if you can believe it. Corzo Silver is the only variety I'd include in a cocktail, and that's not because it's not good by itself. It's great by itself, with notes of citrus and vanilla. Corzo Reposado is aged in oak barrels, giving it notes of oak and honey. It's truly delicious and begs to be sipped neat. Corzo Anejo is incredibly smooth with much more character than its younger siblings and should be enjoyed slowly. I wasn't able to find out how long the Anejo is aged but suffice it to say that however long, well, it's perfect.

As with all spirits, please enjoy in moderation!


The Gin That Made Me Love Gin, Again

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If memory serves me correctly, it was a bon voyage party 10 years ago when I last enjoyed gin. Goodbyes, laughter, tears and gin fizzes flowed freely to the point that everything because one big giant blur. I can't remember much, but I do remember a hangover that made me curse my mother for ever giving birth to me and cursing the man upstairs for giving us free will. How else could I explain a night of being a willing participant indulging in cheap gin, glass after glass after glass? At that fateful party I not only said goodbye to a good friend but I also said goodbye to a spirit that has not touched my lips ever since.

It was a work assignment involving Hendrick's Gin that ended my gin hiatus. I'd noticed that gorgeous squatty bottle for some time but assumed it was filled with that juniper-laden venom that always made me hurt. Oh, the label can claim it's different, but I wasn't fooled. But because I had to write a few paragraphs about the wonders of Hendrick's I thought it would only be fair if I tasted it. My customers deserve it.

Gin, welcome home.

Hendrick's is a small batch gin distilled in Ayrshire, Scotland, and it is anything but ordinary. Crafted with high quality botanicals makes a huge difference, but it's the infusion of Bulgarian Rose and cucumber that sets it apart. While the first initial notes are quite strong as they are with most gins (which is why it's rarely sipped by itself), Hendrick's reveals a beautiful and intriguing aftertaste. It's hard to put your finger on it but you know you are drinking something different, so intricately flavorful. This stuff rocks.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have some drinking and catching up to do. After all, ten years is a long time.



Rosemary Salty Dog
This recipes comes from Enoteca Vin in Raleigh, North Carolina by way of Food & Wine Magazine. Muddled rosemary adds intrigue and imparts a marvelous flavor to this herby graperuity classic.

Ingredients
1 grapefruit wedge and kosher salt
one 1-inch piece of rosemary sprig, plus 1 sprig for garnish
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 ounces fresh red grapefruit juice
1 1/2 ounces gin
ice

Method
Moisten the outer rim of a martini glass with the grapefruit wedge and coat lightly with salt. In a cocktail shaker, muddle the 1-inch rosemary sprig with the sugar. Add the grapefruit juice, gin and ice and shake vigorously. Strain into the martini glass and garnish with the rosemary sprig.


Gadgets Galore

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It was a container of my favorite smoky Pimenton De La Vera that came crashing out of the pantry when I was looking for a vanilla bean that made me realize I've gone insane and needed an intervention. Simply put, my pantry is overrun. Sure, I could blame this compulsion on my day job, but truth be told I'm a little obsessive at times. After some rooting around I rediscovered a small arsenal of extra virgin olive oils from practically every country you could imagine, vinegars made from fruits I've never even heard of and enough sauces and marinades to fill an olympic-sized swimming pool. Mind you, these were items I swore I needed and would use at one point or another, and damnit, I just couldn't stand to get rid of them.. for heavens sake they were still good. But then the rational mind kicked in– that's it, I said, no more! I will attempt to keep a tight clean ship around these parts and lighten up. Heck, winter is on her way out, I should wise up and get a jump on my Spring cleaning.

With pantry doors open I proceeded to begin my purge. So far so good. Giving away baskets of condiments to friends was the easy part. I knew these items were going to good homes. But then suddenly, looking around my kitchen, I suddenly felt a general sense of uneasiness, a nervous tingle developed in the pit of my stomach and tiny beads of sweat began to appear on my brow. Oh my god, please, no, don't.... don't make me.... I can't.... I won't.....

The gadget drawer.

Oh, The Gadget Drawer. Well, it's more like 4 gadget drawers. Also known as the place where kitchen utensils go and die. Or just hang out. Permanently. A place where orphaned wooden spoons eternally wonder if they'll ever find a mate. A place where kitchen shears stack up upon each other once their blades go dull. A land of rusty vegetable peelers, lone measuring cups, cracked egg timers and mix-matched chopsticks go to live. And die.

I knew what had to be done. And I knew I was the man to do it. However painful it was going to be, I rose to the challenge, put on a brave face and purged the kitchen gadgets that no longer worked and that I no longer needed. All of a sudden I felt a sense of liberation, the unease began to disappear as I placed each old tool in the recycling box. And you know what? It feel great.

All this spring cleaning was good for me. It made me realize that no matter how much I collect things, I've got a small trusty set of gadgets and devices that I cannot do without and I shouldn't ignore them. They need me. They love me. So the next time I feel the urge to buy that fuscha silicon whatchamathingie or my 127th set of cheese knives, I'll remember that less is always more.

Matt's Top Ten List of Things He Couldn't Live Without In His Kitchen

10. Molcahete. Quite possibly the most low tech item I own, it probably also has the most history, not only in my kitchen but also culinarily speaking. Made of stone, this morter & pestel gets a regular workout, mashing garlic, spices and making my collection of chunky sea salts a bit more usable. Couldn't live without it.

9. Kyocera Ceramic Knife. Ok, so it looks like it should be taken to a picnic, it's light, white and feels like plastic. All similarities stop there, though. Produced in Sendai, a small city in southwest Japan on the island of Kyushu, this knife simply kicks ass. Made of high tech zirconium oxide, this material is second in hardness only to a diamond and lasts years without sharpening. I wish I could say the same for my expensive metal knives.

8. Zyliss Cheese Grater. I don't know how many of these I've gone through over the years, but for a cheese lover they are indispensable. I love you, Zyliss!

7. Microplane. I'm a citrus freak. The snappy zing of lemon or lime makes me happy. Adding lemon zest to muffins, roasted chicken, dressings and Caprese salads adds that sparkling quality that cannot be created by any other ingredient. Having a zester makes it easy, and it also works great with ginger.

6. Wine Openers. "Hahaha you should really put 'wine opener' on that, babe. I mean, that's totally something you use EVERY SINGLE DAY at home, if you know what I'm saying. Remember that time you couldn't find it and you freaked out because you you forgot that you put it in the picnic basket for the Hollywood Bowl and you were about to grab a screwdriver to push the cork in because you said you really wanted a glass of wine? Man that was funny, good times you guys".

Yea, very funny Adam. Real funny. (yet true.)

5.Silicon Ice Trays. I couldn't help but notice the perfectly square bar ice in my cocktails in Barcelona. Three beautifully formed cubes in a Collins glass was pure perfect simplicity. I had to recreate this at home, and my quest led me to Sur La Table where I found these cute little silicon ice trays. My friends laugh at me over my excitement, but put two cocktails side by side, one using bar ice and the other with those ugly malformed automatic ice machine ice cubes and tell me which one you'd like to drink. Yea, I thought so.

4. Kitchen Thermometers. I test many recipes for work and accuracy is always important. My other half, the man with the sweet tooth to end all sweet teeth, is always talking about hard and soft ball stages when he makes candy. Enter the thermometer. Checking temperatures for doneness and readiness isn't something that can be easily guessed and a thermometer gives you that assurance. I can't stress the importance of this enough. Unless you're a superhero. Or a psychic. In which case you can just use your mystical powers.

3. Egg Timer. If I had my grandmother's intuition I wouldn't need this. I would know when my eggs are ready at every at every point in the boiling process. However, I am not my grandmother but a boy who must rely on this drop-in timer so he can have a perfect soft-boiled egg with truffle butter and toast. God I love technology almost as much as I love eggs.

2. Silli Silicon Brush. Nothing irks me as much as the feeling that no matter how hard I try I cannot get a basting brush clean. Well, as clean as when I bought it. As a result, I kept buying new ones. Until I got my Silli brush. It's a small brush with silicon bristles and it makes basting and brushing a cinch. Olive oil, butter, bbq sauce, anything. Plus I love the name.

and my #1 favorite kitchen gadget...

1. Adam . My partner and the best husband anyone could ever wish for. He's a dishwasher/handyman/cook/baker/guinea pig, all wrapped up into one beautiful tattooed package. And he cleans up my messes and experiments with a smile on his face. Now if everything in the kitchen were this good.


That Loveable Ugly Duckling

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Once considered the ugly stepchild of Mexican cuisine, Tex-Mex food in recent years has finally garnered some respect and adulation. Robb Walsh, the Houston Press's restaurant critic and author of Legends Of Texas Barbecue Cookbook and co-author of A Cowboy In The Kitchen and Nuevo Tex Mex, finally sheds some light on a widely undefined and misunderstood cuisine. It's not Mexican, it's not American, it's from Texas–and it's much more than just cheese enchiladas.

Robb Walsh covers the Mexican Pioneers of the sixteenth century, who first brought cattle to Texas, and the Spaniards who brought cumin and garlic. He talks about the Chile Queens of San Antonio. Combination Plates, tacos, margaritas and flan, and I'm getting hungry just thinking about it. Time to get busy with at least one of the 100 recipes included in this book.



This book has very special importance to me. As a Tejano (that would be a Texan of Mexican decent) it's wonderful to read the history of the foods I grew up eating and loving. It's also a pleasure to see how Robb Walsh has taken these larger-than-life characters, recipes and historical events and weaved them into a great book that is sure to become a favorite of mine.

If you're a food history buff or a Tex-mex lover then this is a read for you. It's not fussy, it's not pretentious, but it's a thoroughly delicious look into one of America's first regional cuisines. It's soul food to the highest degree.


BLT ASAP

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History has had its shares of true bona fide sandwich lovers. There was Hillel the Elder who served lamb and bitter herbs between two matzos. There was John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, who wedged a bit of beef between two slices of toasted bread so that he wouldn't have to leave the gaming table. Even fictitious personalities got into the game; Dagwood Burnstead was known to pile quite a bit of meat and cheese between a few slices of bread, giving us the beloved Dagwood. And then there was Dee of What's Happening (yes, I am a child of the 1970s), whose answer to life's daily predicaments always involved running to the kitchen to make a sandwich. When the tough got going, well, Dee made a sandwich– a philosophy I don't think is all that bad myself.

Sandwiches are so varied, so customized, so beloved that it would be impossible to blog about them in any depth at all. I could talk about pining for grilled cheese sandwich night at Campanile. I could talk about eating the best Cuban I've ever had in my life in Miami. I could wax poetic about the pleasures of a Vietnamese sandwich complete with baguette, cornichon and paté, but I won't. Instead, I want to talk about one of life's most simplest of pleasures, the culinary trinity that makes me salivate just from thinking about it.

Bacon + Lettuce + Tomato.

I wish I could offer and absolute statement here, saying that the combination of these three ingredients make for my favorite sandwich, but truth be told I am way too crazy for just about anything between two slices of bread. But if I had to pick, nothing puts a smile on my face quicker than smoky bacon, thick juicy slices of ripe tomatoes, crisp lettuce and generous amounts of homemade mayonnaise.

The beauty of a BLT is that its open to a wide range of interpretation. Adding avocado creates a California BLT (or BLAT, a rather non-tasty and unfortunate acronym). A BLT tastes just as amazing on toast as it does your run-of-the-mill white bread, but of course a sandwich constructed on artisan or specialty bread will always taste better. And a BLT is only as good as its ingredients. When it comes to bacon, I skip the cheap stuff and go for the thick stuff - you want the bacon to count in this sandwich, don't you? And if you can get your hands on delicious, fresh tomatoes then knock yourself out– A BLT with mealy tomatoes is a shame beyond shames. And when it comes to lettuce, I prefer green or red leaf, but you could easily add anything you have on hand. But remember, freshness counts!

And now to my favorite part: mayonnaise. Growing up it was always the jarred stuff, which does the job but comes no where close to the flavor of making it yourself. Of course I'm lazy and go for convenience, which in my case means Lemonaise from The Ojai Cook. I've held off ranting about this stuff for some time but I feel a posting dedicated to this stuff quickly approaching! But I digress... Mayonnaise is the ingredient that brings all these things together, without it you're just eating a dry sandwich. Unthinkable!

Sitting down to a BLT is such a tasty and simple experience. It's almost humbling in a strange way; it's not fancy, it's not fussy but it's always delicious.

I think it's time to enjoy a BLT ASAP!


Nevat

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Striking. Tasteful yet subtle. Sweet and tangy. I could go on when describing Nevat,
a soft-ripened goat's milk cheese from Cataluña. Made by Josep Cuixart, he uses only his own milk and the milk of neighboring herds to make this hand-formed cheese, and it's processed the same day he gets his milk. Just like Brie, Nevat is injected with penicillium molds allowing it to ripen from the outside in, giving it a deliciously creamy texture in the center.

Nevat must be tasted to be believed. The bloomy white rind gives way to a very subtle, sweet and soft cheese on the inside with a noticeable finish that ends in a pleasant tang. I'm big on cheese condiments and pairings, but something as unique as Nevat should be enjoyed as simply as possible to appreciate every single nuance this cheese possesses.

Because of Nevat's soft nature and the fact that it is indeed a living, breathing cheese it can be a challenge to locate as it's not as hardy as a Manchego or Zamorano, but trust me on this one: it's worth it.


Artichokes

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My first foray into a closer relationship with artichokes began as a work assignment. Drive to Lompoc, California, chat with a farmer, get some pictures and get back to Los Angeles without becoming a part of the daily human-and-metal gridlock. Coffee in hand, I raced up the 5, beating traffic and made it with a few minutes to spare.

Until that point, I categorized artichokes as one of those foods shrouded in history, enjoyed by Romans and Greeks but not necessarily an everyday part of my kitchen. Spiky, thorny, gorgeous yet inhospitable, my little mind was about to be opened to the joys of this thistle.

I spent the day with Steve Jordan. Steve is a man who knows his chokes. In fact, his level of knowledge is quite intimidating. Serious, polite and quiet, Steve is a forth generation California farmer who has been growing artichokes for over twenty years. California grows the majority of artichokes consumed in the United States, and they've been grown here since the 1800s when Italian immigrants brought them to the west. The coastal weather of areas like Lompoc and Castroville are perfect for artichokes, and here they thrive like crazy.

Steve maintains over 550 acres of green and purple artichokes, and when he's not tilling and toiling the land he spends time in Italy, the artichoke's country of origin, to meet with other artichoke farmers and share ideas and information. He's even a member of the global artichoke congress - who knew?



I always thought an artichoke was an artichoke was an artichoke. Boy, was I wrong. Steve actually spends many years nurturing, testing and growing various types of artichokes, many of them starting from European seedlings and spending time in his lab before making their way to the field. It's important to note that his artichokes are not genetically modified, thank goodness. If he discovers a variety he likes and believes can do well commercially then he plants it, although it takes anywhere from 2-7 years before it will end up on our tables. Over the years he's developed green and purple artichokes like the Campania, Fiesole and Lyon and he's always on the lookout for new, delicious varieties.

Then there's the taste. An artichoke fresh from the field is like a green gift from heaven, full of delicious, grassy flavor that is delicious by itself, even raw. Lightly steamed, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil, drawn butter or a simple aioli and I could skip just about everything else and be a very happy man.

I'm happy to say that artichokes are now a part of my regular routine. Steamed, baked, stuffed, grilled or dipped, you basically can't go wrong with a hearty, fresh artichoke. I think those Romans were on to something indeed.


Bloody Mary

10 comments



10. It’s the drink that eats like a meal.

9. Next to a Screwdriver and Mimosa, it’s one of the few cocktails you can enjoy in the morning without raising alcoholic suspicions.

8. You can skip lunch and still eat.

7. Because I have a bottle of great vodka at home that will spoil and go bad very, very soon. (If I repeat this enough you might believe me.)

6. Horseradish.

5. Because tomato juice is packed with vitamins and is good for you.

4. Anything with a big celery stalk in it is fun.

3. Because I have yet to savor the ideal Bloody Mary. Practice makes perfect, you know.

2. Because it’s easily customized; anchovies and garlic stuffed olives, anyone?

1. Because it’s really been one of those days.


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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