Matt’s Personal Opinion of Organics And Marketing At This Very Second

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Because I’m up to my eyeballs in the design of a package for a new organic milk and I’ve just finished re-reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma again, I’m opting out of photos and words and giving you an artistic representation of how I feel about the organic industry and those who market organic foods (I believe I am a part of that group as well. Color me guilty as charged.)

P.S. I’m thoroughly qualified to make fun of organics as I started my career with Whole Foods Market many, many, many years ago back in the original location. Keep your angry emails to yourselves, folks. I’m just venting!




In A Pickle

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What is it about vinegar plus ingredients that make me such a happy boy? Is it the complimentary tang of anything that's cured in brine brings? Is it that zippy puckerface that follows after chomping on a pickled cucumber? Or have I just encountered temporary culinary fatigue and needed something loud and strong to shock me out of my lull?

Perhaps it was D, all of the above.

To me, there are just some things that cannot and should not be enjoyed without their pickled counterpart. I refuse to enjoy paté and baguette without cornichon. I frown if a burger doesn't have pickles waiting for me under its bun. A ploughman's lunch isn't a ploughman's lunch without Branston pickle. Pickles, in whatever form, provide that sharp tangy balance that pairs beautifully with the smooth and savory. It's that last crash of a symbol in a symphony, that sparkling sour kick in a bite.

One of my favorite things to do in the pickling department is Zuni's red onion pickles. If you've eaten there and ordered a burger you know what I'm talking about: those zesty,hot pink rings that adorn the side of the burger, lending an intriguing spice flavor that lives between their savory and salty notes. I always ask for extra, will happily pick them off the plates of dining friends, and just about go crazy for them.

Besides, anything that bright in color has to be loved.

Zuni's red onion pickles are quite easy to make at home and don't require the weeks of resting in brine to achieve their flavor (although they do get better with age.) The process must be done in steps and it may seem elaborate, but it's not. Skipping the steps gives you an onion that isn't quite as flavorful and not the same texture. You want them soft but still crunchy, and the multiple cooking delivers just that.

Aside from their unusual hot pink color, the onions really shine in recipes. They're easily identifiable on a burger and don't get lost amidst sharp cheese and smoky patties. They're also equally delicious on sandwiches, with grilled fare, and served with cheese. I love them on grilled sausages, sort of a fancy hot dog, if you will. However you enjoy them, they're definitely worth the afternoon effort and bring a little Zuni home with every bite.

Red Onion Pickles adapted from the Zuni Cookbook

Cooking notes: You'll want to prepare these in a stainless steel pot and use stainless steel tongs or a wooden spoon. Aluminum cookware can leave the onions with an off color and deny you the gorgeous hot pink hue that you want.

Ingredients for about 2 pints
1 lb firm red onions (about 2 medium onions, although you can add more and increase quantity)

for the brine:
3 cups distilled white vinegar
1 1/2 cups sugar
a cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
a few whole cloves
a few allspice berries
a small dried chili
a star anise pod (Zuni recipe says it's optional, I wouldn't skip this part!)
2 bay leaves
a few whole black peppercorns

Method:
1. Combine the vinegar, sugar, and all the spices in the stainless steel pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and let stand to allow the spices to infuse the brine.

2. Peel the onions, trim the ends and slice 3/8 inch thick. Separate the slices into rings, discarding any skin and tough bits.

3. Uncover the brine and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately add about 1/3 of the onion rings and stir them under. They will turn hot pink almost instantly (YAY! says Matt.) As soon as the bring begins to simmer around the edges, about 20 seconds, stir them under again and slide the pot off the heat. Immediately remove the onions with a slotted spoon, skimmer, or tongs and spread on a platter or cookie sheet to cool completely. The onions will still be firm. Repeat with the remaining onions, in two batches.

4. Once the onions have cooled (you can stick them in the fridge to cool them quickly), repeat the entire process, again in three batches, two more times, always adding the onions to boiling brine, pulling them promptly as the brine begins to simmer again, and cooling them completely after each bath. After the third round of blanching, thoroughly chill the brine, then add the pickled onions. This slightly tedious process saturates the onions with the fragrant brine without really cooking them, a process that leaves them crunchy. Zuni notes that without this process you're left with dull, regularly colored onion rings.

5. Place in jars, cover and store refrigerated. The cookbook says they will keep indefinitely, but I've never gone longer than 2 weeks before they're completely gone. Enjoy!


A Sip of Paradise

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Sometimes I think I live in paradise. Well, paradise if you omit the 405 freeway, the congestion, smog, the high cost of living and state income tax. Even though Southern California gets a bad rap (and sometimes deservedly so), it’s still filled with great beauty and nature and it’s easy to see why it’s called the Golden State.

For example, on a clear day I can see the ocean to my left and snow covered mountains on my right. In one single day I can swim at the beach in the morning, sweat in the middle of a desert during lunch and throw snowballs in the afternoon and still be home in time for dinner. It’s geographically miraculous and an ever constant source of personal amazement.

Few places in the world have our climate, and this explains why California is an agricultural goldmine. Plenty of sunshine, cool days, mild winters and an ample amount of heat make for luscious environs, and I only need to set foot into my backyard to experience paradise.

While my deepest gratitude goes out to Mother Nature and all that she supplies us I cannot forget another woman who has made my life so extremely special; her name is Pat. You see, Pat is my partner’s grandmother and the original owner of the home we live in. Pat was a homemaker and an avid gardener. She was also a lover of all things tropical and traveled to Hawaii, Fiji, the Philippines, Tonga, Tahiti, Bahamas, Virgin Islands and every place in between. She spent countless hours planting, culling, trimming and beautifying her yard, planting the small cuttings that she brought home from all her travels. I bet she had no idea that 60 years later her grandson’s partner would whisper a little “thank you” each time the season’s first plumeria or peach or nectarine appeared. To stand in her yard and literally reap the fruits of her labor is such a gift, and it reminds me that if you nurture and love and tend to and care for life’s treasures you will be rewarded in ways greater than you can ever imagine.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Sometime around 1955 Pat (or Granny as we called her) planted a row of plumeria trees, fruit trees, palms, staghorn ferns and numerous hibiscus trees in her backyard. Decades later they’re still thriving and every year I love collecting the plumeria flowers for fragrant homemade leis. I hate to see those beautiful flowers go to waste! I also discovered how easy it is to make the drink Jamaica from all the hibiscus flowers.

Dried flowers from the Hibiscus sabdariffa are steeped in boiling water and allowed release their color and flavor (the bright red color is due to the presence of anthocyans, the same compounds that give beets their color.) The soaked flowers are given one last squeeze before discarding them and the liquid is strained, sugared and usually served over ice. Jamaica is high in vitamin C and has a tart, almost cranberry-like flavor and can deliver quite a pucker. If you can’t find fresh hibiscus flowers (talk about eating locally!) you can usually find the dried variety in health food stores or Latin markets.

If you find yourself in Southern California during August consider this an open invitation to join us in our small spot of heaven while wearing a homemade lei and sipping Jamaica. Paradise is always much better shared.

Jamaica
I’m not big on formalities but if you’re saying Ja-may-kuh like the Island then you’re just a tad bit off. Say it with me: huh-mai-kuh. There. Much better. Oh, and if you’re female and time traveling from ancient Egypt, you might want to stick with water. Red hibiscus flowers were believed to induce lust to the highest degree and therefore a forbidden drink. More for me!


Ingredients
2/3 cup dried hibiscus blossoms
1 1/2 cups water plus 3 cups
1/2 to 1/3 cup granulated sugar (or more to taste)
lime wedges for garnish


Method
In a saucepan bring the 1 1/2 cups of water and blossoms to a boil. Continue boiling for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and add remaining water and sugar. Transfer the liquid to a pitcher and set aside overnight. Of course you can serve immediately over ice but the flavors will be better developed if you wait. Garnish with lime wedges.


24 Hours In San Francisco

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It would be silly to say that I too have left my heart in San Francisco considering I feel like such a Southern California boy these days. But every time I go back it reminds me how much I love that place. Memories and experiences–some great, some I'd rather forget–come flooding back to me, instantly transporting me back to the years I spent struggling to pay my rent yet loving every minute of the delicious struggle.

This past visit, although short, reminded me of the magic that I fell in love with the very first time I set foot in that zany city. I was there for a series of meetings, a schedule that would put me in San Francisco for for exactly 24 hours (ok, well, 24.56 hours if you want to split hairs.) And because I don't make it up as much as I'd like I was determined to cram as much food into my short window as humanly possible. Consider it a gustatory race, if you will, a competition with myself in which I was clearly the victor. Damn, for once I won something!

I have neither the writing skills nor the vocabulary to say how amazing San Francisco is. But you already knew that. I mean, nothing I could say could really ever convey how freaking fantastic the food is. And I'm not just talking restaurants, but the culture, environment and the connection. So I won't even try. I'd fail miserably.



My first few hours were spent in meetings, and as much as I engaged in the topic of media buys and grand openings and the value of radio versus print versus versus online advertising, all I could think of was getting out as soon as possible and eating. Should I fake a stomach ache so I could skip out early? No, that's dishonest. How about stare at my watch, sending out invisible signals that I had absorbed as much info as I could and that it was time to bolt for the door? No, I had a job to do. And I did it. But you better believe the second the last meeting was over I ran for the door and hightailed it to dinner.

The meetings went well. I had a nice tour of the new (wait, old) San Francisco Emporium building at 5th and Market, still currently under construction. But when it opens in September it will be quite a stunning place. The 19th century dome on top of the building was lifted and moved last year and just thinking about the logistics of that gives me a headache. No small feat, for sure!



After a day of meetings I met with two of my best friends who put me to shame when it comes to culinary achievements. Wade, a Whole Foods Market veteran and his partner Paul, of the Paul Marcus Wine Shop in Oakland, travel the world eating and tasting and no I am not bitter and do not feel sorry for them one bit and I am certainly not jealous hell no that's not like me I could never and I wish them the best even if Paul says it's hell spending a month winetasting in France oh poor guy my heart goes out to him blah blah blah blah blah. Whew! That felt good! Where was I? Oh yes, dinner. I suppose it's Los Angeles' sad representation of Spanish food that always pushes me towards tapas when I travel and this trip was no exception. I've wanted to try Bocadillos (710 Montgomery Street) for some time and get my urban Spanish fix in an attempt to recapture the long dinners I shared with Paul and Wade when we were all in Spain a few years ago. While Bocadillos didn't have a heavy fog of cigarette smoke and hams hanging from the ceiling like many tapas bars in Spain, it did offer some pretty delicious bites, a nice wine list, and the opportunity to sit and catch up without feeling rushed. I can't remember the last time I enjoyed this sensation in an American restaurant.

Note to self: next time skip everything else and just order one metric ton of Prawns A La Plancha with garlic and lemon confit. Oh jesus.



One of the best parts of my job involves a constant absorption of media, food, trends, tastes and ideas. It's what we do as marketers, and it's the part that makes the long hours worth it. This means that I can unashamedly eat 6 meals a day for the sake of work, snack in between, and when that lady sitting next to me looks at me like I represent everything wrong with American diets, well, I can just smile, knowing I'm doing a good job. Bitch.



Tartine. Oh Tartine Tartine Tartine Tartine Tartine. Based on Amy's recommendation I found myself in the Mission Tuesday morning, just up the street from my old apartment. And I'm kind of glad Tartine wasn't open when I lived there. I'm a chubby guy and Tartine would have easily pushed me into the obese category. Was the line trailing out the door a sign of things to come? Would there be anything in that bakery I wouldn't enjoy? Is it wrong to want to find an apartment and move back just because of this place? Oh, all the questions. But what I do know is that Tartine lives up to its buzz. I just love when someone does something right. It was a perfect experience. Not particularly precious or over the top as San Francisco is prone to doing, it's just a great bakery. 'Nuff said.



After breakfast (well, enough for a week's worth of breakfasts) I headed to the Ferry Building. The shops were just opening but Tuesday was Farmer's Market day. It was painful to be among such amazing produce and know that I couldn't load my bag with the freshest and tastiest fruits and vegetables. I mean, well, yes, I could, but then I'd be boarding a plane and knocking over people with artichokes and turnips and snap peas and flowers. Come to think of it, that'd be kind of funny. Of course I couldn't help myself and snatched up every organic Sorrento lemon I could find. Carrying 6 lbs of lemons around all day isn't exactly comfortable but I'm sure glad I did it. Who doesn't love lemons?

Because I was there for work and traveling with colleages we spent the next few hours cabbing it around town checking out grocery stores. Some nice, some incredibly not-so-nice, I alternated between making notes and checking my watch. I wanted so badly to fast forward to lunch so I could eat again. Remember, I was a man on a mission, and I was going to make it back to Taylor's if it was the last thing I did.

Taylor's Refresher was founded in St. Helena, California in 1949 and was recently named the 2006 America's Classics Restaurant Winner by the James Beard Foundation. Taylor's is the ultimate burger joint and it's hard to pass up the opportunity to indulge in a burger and shake. With a glass of wine. Or three. And fries. And onion rings. And a beer. Sure, this new shiny location doesn't have the same charm as the original one, but that doesn't matter when the food is just as good. I could cry right now.


After lunch I had one last stroll through the Ferry Building, making sure I stocked up on some sweets for the ride home.



I'm looking forward to spending more time on a regular basis in one of my favorite food cities. My doctor probably won't think it's the best idea, but you only live once and there's just too many heavenly bites in San Francisco.

I mean, somebody's gotta eat it, right?



Online:
Tartine
Taylor's Refresher
Bocadillos
Miette Bakery
Ferry Building


Review: Seasoned Skewers

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I just read a pretty fascinating article on Homaro Cantu of Moto in Chicago. Cantu is one of the gastronomical scientific renegades who is attempting to change the way we eat and think about food by fusing the science lab with the kitchen. You know what I'm talking about: menus on edible paper, synthetic champagne, food disguised as shapes that reveal their true identities once bitten, lasers, nitrogen, helium, class IV lasers, I could go on. I can't knock it because I've never tried his cuisine, but something tells me that I'm content with my kitchen and just a few pots and pans. I'm a simple guy.

Maybe it's timing or irony, but the second I finished the article a package arrived on my desk. I opened it to find an assortment of skewers that promise "15-minute flavor". Seasoned Skewers are flavored skewers that are infused with essential oils and herbal extracts in a variety of combinations. You put your unseasoned food on the skewer, wait 15 minutes, and cook.

Oh no, more food magic! I just don't know if I can take it. I mean, what's wrong with marinating the old fashioned way?

Reluctantly I gave the skewers a try. I skewered shrimp, scallops and vegetables on the sticks, waited a bit and grilled.

Can you say amazed?

Can you say ingenious?



I really had one of those "why didn't someone think of this sooner?" kind of moments. It's clever, tasty, all natural, and fat and sodium free, too. The skewers come in Honey Bourbon, Citrus Rosemary, Thai Coconut Lime, Mexican Fiesta, Garlic Herb and Indian Mango Curry. I tried the Thai Coconut Lime and sure enough my food was flavored perfectly. Pretty aromatic, I'd say.

Ok, so it might not be polymer box filled with foam, but Seasoned Skewers sure do the trick when you don't want to do it yourself.


Capirotada

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After my creepy-crawling yet delicious snail experience I have decided to switch gears and go for something a wee bit more familiar, something that didn’t require “farming” and something that wouldn’t elicit sneers and calls of “you’re insane!” I wanted to enjoy something sweet, warm and familiar. I wanted to make Capirotada.

Capirotada is a dish with a rich legacy. Also known as Mexican bread pudding, Capirotada is a dessert with as many variations as you can imagine. There is no one definitive recipe, it’s open to many broad interpretations. Perhaps this is why I enjoy it so much; it’s always different no matter where you go. But no matter where eat it, you can be assured that you’ll find the one ingredient that makes it Capirotada through and through: cheese.

Yes, cheese.

Capirotada is traditionally served during Lent. My grandmother would make it a few times a year or whenever she found herself with a surplus of stale bread, and without fail it would disappear in seconds. There’s something about that savory bite of cheese hidden within the flavors of cinnamon, cloves and raisins. It’s a natural pairing, even if I did think it was strange as a child. Ah, how tastes change, no?

The history of the Capirotada is long and complex. As with many Mexican dishes, Capirotada traces its roots back to the old world, where various centuries-old Spanish cookbooks mention its predecessor. Even further back we see a distant relative mentioned by the Romans entitled Sala Cattaba, a mixture of bread, liquid (more on this later), savories such as vegetables, fowl, meat and fat, and a dressing that made of mint, pepper, celery, pennyroyal, pine nuts, vinegar, honey, water and cheese. Throughout history, this potted bread pudding has changed over time, but it has always managed to keep its sweet & savory element intact.

Fast-forward a couple of hundred years. It’s not clear exactly when the Capirotada made its official crossover into the world of sweets, but legend has it that meat was omitted sometime during the 19th century, mostly for religious observances. It’s this version that you’ll find throughout Mexico–if you’re lucky, that is. José Luis Juárez López, a food writer from Mexico, says that Capirotada is in danger of extinction and isn’t a part of too many food celebrations today. Certainly disheartening.

Present-day recipes of Capirotada can often leave you confused. You’d be hard pressed to find matching recipes no matter where you looked, as ingredients, quantities and preparation methods can vary from cook to cook. There is a general consensus, however, which states that Capirotada includes bread, a liquid, some solids in the form of raisins and nuts, and of course cheese (hallelujah Matt screams!)



Bread forms the basis of this dish. It’s the foundation. As I mentioned earlier, my grandmother always used stale bread as it seems to hold up better. If you’re using fresh bread you’ll want to toast it before using it. Capirotada is usually made with Bolillos, small round loaves of bread found in Mexican markets. Once stale they make the perfect texture for bread pudding.



A sauce must be made to pour over the chunks of bread. This liquid is basically made of water, brown sugar, cloves and cinnamon sticks, reduced to a syrup and strained. Variations include the addition of anise tea or a piloncillo, The piloncillo, a small cone of dried unrefined brown sugar, is the Mexican secret incredient and can be found in Latin markets. To me it’s what makes my Capirotada. You may also notice that Capirotada uses a sugar syrup and not cream and eggs like other bread puddings. But fear not, it’s still delicious.



The beauty of this dish is its personalized nature. I am content with the sole inclusion of raisins, but feel free to add currants, pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, peanuts, even fresh or dried fruit.

Then there’s the cheese. Yes, cheese. A nice cheddar freshly shredded tastes delicious and is more subtle in this dish than you might imagine. Similar to apple pie with a slice of cheddar on top, cheese in this bread pudding really shines and adds dimension. Besides, it’s not Capirotada without it! Other recipes call for Queso Añejo, Seco or Ranchero, but I find a simple cheddar works just fine.

Black pepper, chopped tomatoes, onions and bay leaves can be added. No, your browser hasn’t accidentally taken you to another recipe. We’re still talking Capirotada here, folks. Personally this is a tad bit different for me and not at all the way I grew up eating it. But experiment and try it, you might just like it!

Capirotada
Mexican desserts aren’t famous for their over-the-top sweetness. If you prefer your bread pudding on the sweeter side simply adjust the sugar level in the liquid.

ingredients
3 cups of water
3 large cinnamon sticks
3 to 4 Pilloncillos (if not available you can substitute 1 1/2 cups brown sugar)
3 to 4 oz raisins
4 bolillo rolls (found in Mexican markets) or 1 loaf french bread, cut into pieces
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Method
In a saucepan, bring water, sugar and cinnamon sticks to a boil then reduce and simmer for 10 minutes. Break bread into small 2 inch pieces (if using fresh bread you'll need to toast it beforehand) and place in a baking dish and sprinkle with raisins and half of the shredded cheese. Strain the syrup liquid, removing the cinnamon sticks, and pour the syrup over the bread until well absorbed. Top with remaining cheese and bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes or until syrup is absorbed. This dish may be served warm or cold and topped with fresh whipped cream or ice cream. Enjoy!


A Snail's Pace

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Keeping a garden of herbs and vegetables is one of my greatest pleasures; keeping that garden grow without the use of pesticides and chemicals is on my biggest headaches. It doesn’t matter how on top of things I am, my enemies never fail to secretly invade and set up camp when I’m not looking. Because of this I can’t grow basil, my cabbage looks like Swiss cheese and I’m probably the only person I know with sorrel that looks like lace, elaborate decorative holes and all.

I’ve done the ladybug thing, and they clearly didn’t find my garden as nice as I thought they would and they fled. I’ve tried covering certain plants with protective covering but darn if the pests aren’t creative. I’ve mixed things bugs don’t like with those that they love, hoping to put an end to the endless buffet. Nothing worked. I’ve tried bargaining with them, even telling the snail colony that recently moved in that I’ll trade them a leafy green if they "leaf" my herbs alone. They didn’t listen.

Always one to make lemonade out of lemons (Meyers, thank you very much), I remembered an article I read in SF Gate about a man named Victor Yool and his penchant for snails. You see, this man not only loved serving these meaty mollusks to guests, but he harvested them from his own backyard! BINGO! If my snails were going to eat my greens then I was going to eat them! It’s a cruel world indeed.

After some research and a quick chat with a zoologist acquaintance, I decided to pursue this experiment seriously. I learned that thanks to an Italian immigrant who came to California 150 years ago, the common garden snail is actually the edible variety. I had discovered a goldmind of Helix aspersa in my yard and soon they would be swimming in butter and garlic. And I couldn’t wait.

But wait I would have to. Even though I refrain from using chemicals and pesticides in my yard, I couldn’t be assured that my snow poke pests hadn’t visited a neighbor’s yard and ingested any harmful toxins. I would have to purge them, a process that involved containing them and feeding them greens, corn meal and water for a minimum of two weeks.


Ladies and gentleman, my name is Matt. I am a Snail Wrangler.

For two weeks I had to endure the gasp of friends and the disgust of my partner. It turns out that snails creep out quite a bit of people. But I can’t figure out why. What’s not to love about a slow moving shapeless blob with movie antennae that leaves behind a trail of slime and long, black stringy waste? Apparently tons.

Nevertheless, I forged ahead for the sake of culinary experience.

After my guests had cleaned out their systems they were ready to be processed. I said a small prayer before dunking my mollusks into boiling water, shell and all. There are different schools of thought on what to do here; some methods involve layering snails in coase sea salt which causes them to disgorge themselves before the boiling process, but I went straight for a quick kill.



They cooked for about 10-15 minutes and required a change of water. I also had to skim off the foam that appears on the surface. Once the foam was gone I was ready.
I rinsed the snails under cool water and used a small fork to remove the snail from its shell. This was done with a fine blend of facination and disgust; everything I’ve always wondered about snail anatomy was slipping around in my hand.



Farming snails from my garden and then cooking them gave me a crash course in their anatomy. After a deep breath I decided I didn’t want to consume their hepatopancreas, an organ that functions similar to a liver and pancreas in mammals. This is only a personal preference–some escargot lovers eat the entire thing.



After removing the hepatopancreas I chopped up the remaining meat. My shells weren’t terribly big and I knew I’d never be able to get a whole cooked snail back in so I opted for a nice chop. Into the pan went butter, garlic, parsley, white wine, sea salt and my snail meat, long enough to heat through and cook a small bit of alcohol off. Once done, my snail bits went back into the shell and back in the oven for a few minutes. Once done I topped with more parsley and dug in.



They were just as delicious as could be. Sure, there was unnerving snail foam all over the kitchen. Yes, there was a distinct earthy smell that hung around from boiling the mollusks, but one taste of that buttery, garlicky goodness made this science experience rewarding, delicious and educational.

As far as my garden goes, my basil still may be half-eaten and my parsley full of holes, but it’s okay. The snails may have won this battle, but I’m the one with plenty of recipes in my arsenal.

Disclaimer: You never know where your snails may have been. Because of this please use caution when eating snails from your garden. They may have come in contact with pesticides and you do not want to ingest that.


Product Review: Reynolds Fun Shapes

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I'm a huge fan of anything that encourages kids to get in the kitchen and prepare food. Like many others, I have a less-than-favorable view on fast food in this country and its effect on our waistlines. Besides, so many are far removed from the actual act of cooking and preparing food and I personally find that disheartening. I believe the kitchen can be the center of the home, and cooking and eating together have benefits that can be felt for a lifetime.

When I was asked to review these Reynolds fun shapes my immediate reaction was "Hey, that's cute!" But as they sat on my desk for a while and friends and colleagues saw them I realized that they were not only cute but also worthy of a mention. I gave a few to co-workers with families and the reactions were all the same: they were a hit. And for some parents with sugar concerns, these baking cups and cake pans aren't only for sweet treets. They made great tiny pans for a guacamole-inspired 5 layer dip in the shape of a star, a simple quick pizza as well as egg-shaped cornbread.

Not only are they cute, but they created a kitchen activity that brings people together. Now you gotta love that.

Please remember to recycle.


Thanks But No Thanks

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STYLIST: "Hello Matt. My name is xxx and I am a food stylist. I was wondering if I could drop off my book sometime next week for someone to review."

MATT: "Oh, but of course. I'd love to see it."

STYLIST: "Great. And by the way, your Cinco De Mayo ad from last year was just terrible."

MATT: "Excuse me?"

STYLIST: "Your ad, the one you ran last year, it was just terrible. The food styling and the photography were just awful."

MATT: "Ah, um, well I see. Thank you for calling, I'll check out your book next week."


The End. Literally.

Ladies and gentleman, I don't need to tell you that when you are looking for work you should be as polite and mannered as possible. Bad-mouthing the work of a potential employer as well as other colleagues in your field is a sure-fire way to make sure the big door closes on your opportunity faster than Donald can say "you're fired!"

It's just a thought.


Gone Bananas

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I've been on a banana kick lately. It's not so much out of concern for increasing my fresh fruit intake as much as it is my sheer, unadulterated laziness. You see, after a day of tasting food and writing about food and taking fun little pictures of food the last thing I want to do is see/read/touch/the stuff when I get home. Luckily for me this culinary exhaustion only lasts a few hours and then I start dreaming about gluttony all over again.

When this happens I usually want to go for the easiest, simplest thing possible. Enter the banana. High in carbs but low in fats, the banana is what I consider a remarkable fruit. It's quick, handy, and utterly satisfying, delivering significant amounts of vitamin C and potassium in one compact carrying case. It's my one "go-to" food when I'm over food. It requires no thought, it satisfies and it's better than a mindless bag of salty chips. Ok, most of the time.

I'd like to say that I've tried numerous methods in my kitchen and offer you "the best banana bread!" recipe or "the world's ultimate banana muffin!" instead of the recipe that is at the end of this blog, but I haven't. I'm not much of a baker. But I can tell you this: I can make a mean Bananas Foster. Heaven knows I've got plenty of practice! (I've made it my life's goal to perfect any recipe that utilizes alcohol, you know.)

So tonight, I'll put aside the stack of food magazines that need to be read, I'll stop researching the 12 plus bottles of bbq sauce on my desk for a grilling sauce taste-off, I'll turn off the cell phone and sit down to a favorite of the King himself.

And here I said I wanted something simple for dinner?



The Elvis

I first had this sandwich at The Peanut Butter Company located in the West Village. My friend looked at me in horror when I ate the whole thing and then asked me "How could you? How could you eat that?" I told her it was simple. With my mouth.

Ingredients
Thick sliced bread (wheat works best, methinks)
Peanut butter
Banana slices
Honey
Bacon - optional (preferably thick sliced, just the way the King liked it)

Method
Toast the bread and slather both sides with peanut butter. Yes, slather. Top one piece of bread with sliced bananas, bacon and drizzle with honey on top. Place remaining slice of bread on top and enjoy.

Grab napkins. It's messy.


A Very Important Date

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Sharing good food with friends is one of life's greatest pleasures; having parents who are equally as passionate is a blessing. Wait, maybe that's where it came from? By golly, I think that's it!

Last week while returning from a family function in Arizona, we decided to make a small detour to the date capital of the United States, parents in tow. It was even more special considering my parents used to take us as children through Indio, California on road trips just to get a date shake. The warm, dry weather, the towering date palms and the uber-sweet milkshake made with plump dates will always be one of my fondest memories.

Dates are considered to be the oldest known tree crop to be cultivated. For more than 6,000 years dates have been an important food source, allowing portability, long-term storage and most importantly, sugar and flavor. Originally grown only in the Middle East, the date business in the United States is credited to Frederick Oliver Popenoe. In 1907, Popenoe moved to Alta Dena and opened a tropical plant nursery named West India Gardens. After a few years he sent his sons Paul and Wilson to the Middle East and North Africa in search of tropical plants and trees for the nursery, and around 1913 his sons sent back 16,000 date offshoots from Iraq, Algeria and eastern Arabia. Voila! The date industry was born.

Date trees require quite a bit of heat to grow, which explains their prevalence in Southern California's dessert and parts of Arizona. Although date trees are quite adept at preserving water during the long days of sunshine, they also require immense amounts of water at certain times of the year, depending on the growing stage.

Now on to the tricky part. Modern date trees require "grower-assisted" pollination as Mother Nature can oftentimes be unpredictable. This involves a very high ladder and clearly a lack of fear of heights. After pollination comes harvesting, fruit arm decentering, strand reduction, thinning, ringing, bagging, tying down, and a few other processes that my simple brain can't even understand. Seriously, it's enough to confuse me and make me realize that the sweet, caramelly fruit I love so much actually takes quite a bit of man power to grow. Date trees and growers, you've certainly earned my endless respect. I'll never look at a date the same way.

I'll leave the botany to the professionals, my area of expertise is good old fashioned eating! After conducting a very informal tasting, mattbites has come to the conclusion that any date is a favorite of mine. How could I be so cruel and just pick one?

The abada date, also known as the black date, is dark in color with a very sweet taste and creamy texture. Their appearance is striking–so is their flavor.

The Zahidi date is light in color with a firm outside and great sweetness inside. They are certainly not the sweetest dates available, making them good for recipes where you don't want the date to overpower other ingredients.

The Medjool date is a favorite and often called the "King Of Dates". If you're going to eat only one date it would have to be this, hands down. Perfectly sweet with a gorgeous color, large and delicious.

Deglet Noor dates are a bit chewier and drier, making it perfect for baking and trail mixes.

Khadrawi dates are in the middle of the sweetness scale. The flesh of the Khadrawi is moist and soft. Grab a napkin.

Bahri dates are visually stunning; they're almost perfectly round with a rich, vanilla-like flavor. I could eat pounds and pounds of these. Oh wait, I just did.

When it comes to using dates in the kitchen, dates are happy in cakes, muffins, breads, stuffed with cheese or just served alongside a simple cheese tray. Their big sweet taste contrasts well with savory foods, and a few dates go a long long way. My ultimate favorite way with dates involves wrapping them with smoky bacon, popping them into the oven and enjoying them hot. (In fact, it's the real reason I enjoy AOC so damn much, but you didn't hear that from me.) But for the ultimate sweet tooth out there, I can think of no better way to savor the sweetness than in a cold, creamy date shake. One sip and I'm in heaven.

Oasis Date Gardens Ranch Date Milk Shake

1/2 cup seeded, chopped dates (you can use any variety)
3 scoops vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt
1/2 cup milk

Combine milk and dates in a blender and puree. Add ice cream or yogurt and mix until smooth. Smile.


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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