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Eat With Your Eyes First

Matt Bites Inspiration Board
When planning the same holiday year after year, how do you keep your celebration fresh and interesting while maintaining a sense of tradition? We asked our favorite bloggers and food people to share what’s inspiring their Thanksgiving planning this year. From ancestor’s recipes and falling leaves, to beautiful piles of ingredients and thoughtful home decor, there was no shortage of imagination. See what motivates some of the most creative minds we know, and then start planning your annual feast.

Thanksgiving is a favorite holiday at our house, because it’s a time for us to give thanks for all the joys of the year. We are thankful for friends, family, our work, being alive, you name it. We love it so much that we usually host two Thanksgiving meals: a pre-run that we call Friendsgiving, as well as a giant meal on the big day. Yes, it’s double the work, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Even though we celebrate twice, my inspiration and goals for the meal are the same: to create a visual bounty that’s in line with amazingly delicious food. Since I’m a big believer in eating with your eyes first, my table is always thoughtfully planned out around a theme. Last year was a delightful mixing and matching of colors and textures, while this year will be about jewel tones with a focus on purple and orange. These colors have always been so regal and special to me, and they complement the browns and deep greens of the food itself.

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Popcorn Balls, Reinvented

Popcorn Balls Recipe

Double, double toil and trouble, I’m gonna stuff my face with Halloween candy.

OK, so that didn’t rhyme and I now owe Mr. S. an apology, but it’s everyone’s favorite time of year, so I’m going with it.

For me it’s my excuse to skip all meals in favor of candy and all sorts of nontraditional sweets. I think nothing of overindulging in all things sticky and sweet, and I’m pretty sure my dentist appreciates that.

This year I wanted to adapt my recipe for Popcorn Balls on a Stick from my book, On a Stick! It’s a very easy recipe to make. They travel well, are fun and easy to eat, and they can be made ahead so you can tend to those pesky trick-or-treaters as they try to steal all of your candy.

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Adventures in State Fair Eating, or The Making of On a Stick!

On a Stick by Matt Armendariz

I should have listened a bit more closely to the stern warnings of almost every person I know who has written a book.

“It’s more work than you think it can be.”

“You’ll gain 10 pounds.”

“You’ll miss your regular life.”

OK, alright, I admit that these are mostly from one end of the author spectrum but they still ring true: Writing and photographing a cookbook is a challenge and takes dedication and hard work.

It’s also a hell of a lot of fun!

Now that my book, On A Stick!, has been out a little over a month, I can almost sit back and let out a sigh of relief. What started in Spring 2010 is now on bookshelves all over the country, displayed just in time for summer cooking. And yes, I’m proud that it’s done and am delighted by the fun people are finding in its pages because it’s true: Food on a stick has that built-in fun factor!

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Devil’s Food Cake with Dulce de Leche Frosting

Devil's Food Cake with Dulce de Leche Frosting

Happy Birthday, Cooking Channel!

Ok, seriously… where did this past year go? It seems like just yesterday everyone was gearing up to welcome Cooking Channel to the world, this blog here was just getting started, and everything was new and fresh! Luckily, everything is still as new, fresh and delicious as ever as Cooking Channel turns 1 year old! And can you believe it? It flew by!

I’ve had a fantastic time creating recipes and writing for Devour The Blog, and I’ve also had a fantastic time watching so many old and new friends on Cooking Channel. As a way to celebrate and say THANK YOU I decided to put together a cake worthy of this blog’s birthday. Because what is 1 year without something sweet? I thought so.

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Matt’s Salsa Fresca

Salsa Fresca

My earliest food memories involve salsa in every form. Hot, not-so-hot, chunky, cooked, raw, you name it – if it could be made, we ate it. This version, usually called pico de gallo or salsa fresca, is a raw salsa made from ripe tomatoes, onions, garlic, jalapeños, lots of freshly chopped cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of salt.

It is a versatile condiment, one I’m pretty sure I’ve eaten on just about every food imaginable during my lifetime. Nothing is as good as scooping a freshly fried and salted corn chip into pico de gallo, but this salsa isn’t just for snacking. I kick up the garlic and use it over grilled fish, sprinkle it over kebabs and tuck it inside tacos made with sizzling fajitas. It’s also a fantastic filling for the hollowed-out half of an avocado.

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Braised Cabbage with Creamy Spicy Mustard Sauce

Looking back, I think cabbage got a bum deal in the vegetable world when I was growing up. It only showed up during summer picnics in the form of coleslaw, sometimes in my mother’s caldo, a Mexican soup, and during St. Patrick’s Day meals.I wanted to change this by creating a dish that’s worthy of cabbage as the star, something that can be enjoyed all year long.

This braised cabbage takes all the spices of traditional Corned Beef & Cabbage, but dresses them up with a Creamy Spicy Mustard Sauce; it’s a fantastic main dish, suitable for my vegetarian friends, and so completely satisfying. Braising isn’t only for meat – you’ll be surprised with the silky and savory results you can get from slow braising vegetables.

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Matt’s Creamy Colcannon with Kale

This Irish favorite has become a favorite of mine, too. I’ll just go out on a limb and say that I’d be happy eating mashed potatoes every single day of the year if I let myself. And this delicious Colcannon, complete with the earthy flavors of kale and the creamy addition of butter and cream, makes a wonderful side dish when served with pork tenderloin, beef, and especially roasted chicken.

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Gumbo Hand Pies

If you want to put an instant smile on my face, ask me about New Orleans. I love New Orleans. Now if you want to put an even bigger smile on my face, ask me about New Orleans during Mardi Gras. While everyone is marveling at the parades and dancing to Zydeco, you’d most likely find me stuffing my face with endless amounts of food. This is why I’ve always loved that city and return with just a few extra pounds on my body. Hey, it’s worth it if you ask me.

This year, in honor of the celebration, I decided to create something that was party-friendly and summed up the season. I grew up on the gulf coast of Texas close to Louisiana and have always loved the flavors and recipes that drifted our way via friends and family. Gumbo is at the top of my list (thank you, Aunt Mary Ann!) so in honor I’ve created a Gumbo Hand Pie. Sure, you can call it a turnover or an empanada—in any case you’ll want to make extra. Trust me on this.

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Ultimate App: Spicy Sweet Potato and Chicken Fritters

I’m probably not the first person to admit I’m more interested in Game Day Food than the Big Game itself. When people get together with a bevy of fingers foods, you can certainly count on me showing up. It’s probably one of my favorite ways to eat — a little bit of this, a little bit of that. And there will be dips, crunchy salty things, plenty of icy beer.

This year I’ll be making my Spicy Sweet Potato and Chicken Fritters. Warm sweet potatoes become the base for this savory fritter that’s stuffed with chicken and then dipped in a spicy sour cream and sriracha combo. And did I mention the fritters have a delightful crunch thanks to panko breadcrumbs? I love these things, they’re hot and sweet and the fontina béchamel isn’t anything to laugh at either. Perfect game day snacking.

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Matt’s Lemon Blueberry Muffins

MattBites Lemon Blueberry Muffins

You know what I love most about this time of year? The fact that everyone is busy with the holidays. This leaves me with ample free time to actually spend lazy mornings catching up with a stack of magazines and enough time to get in the kitchen and bake. And when a craving for muffins called, well, I answered. Loaded with plump blueberries and the zing of lemon zest, these muffins took me a few tries before getting them just the way I wanted them.

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