a food blog by samwellsphoto.com

Archive for 'travel'

December 24, 2014

One of my favorite things to do while traveling is to visit all types of markets. Nothing educates me more on a culture’s cuisine than the local markets where the ingredients are sold. Industrialized production, storage, and shipping of food has pretty much homogenized our food selection in supermarkets. We get food from everywhere in the world, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if I want bell peppers in the winter, but we are pretty much sold the same things all year. On top of that, some of the most interesting fruits and vegetables that don’t travel well get left out of the system because spoilage rates are too high. Going to local markets gives me a pulse on what is grown in the area and there’s always something unique I’ve never seen before.

This is the only floating market I’ve ever seen, but I guess everything is floating in Venice, so it only makes sense.

Crossing the border from Spain to France shows the drastic change in bread making styles. Bread was sold by the kilo at this market in Santiago de Compostella in Spain. Below shows all the classic spices at the same market.

I found that French markets were all merchandized perfectly. Everything was organized, and then systematically reorganized all day as things were sold. Their pride in their merchandize is definitely shown in the details.

Fish markets prove how diverse food is around the world. It’s an awakening experience to see how much fish displays in the US consist mostly of fillets from large fish, while most fish markets around the world consist of smaller fish. Cooking whole fish is one of my favorite things because the flavor from the bones and skin is indescribably good. All my deep sea fishing friends think I’m crazy when I ask them to bring back some mackerel, sardines, or small bi-catch that they use to catch big game fish. Identifying fresh fish is the secret to cooking epic fish, so use your senses to pick the best. Look for clear eyes, a neutral fresh sea smell, firm texture, and a fresh slime coat on the skin. If anything is fishy, don’t buy it. No amount of spices will ever cover up funky fish. If the fish is good enough, cooking it with salt and drizzling it with extremely good olive oil is the only thing you need to do.

In Costa Rica I found this street fruit stand shown below selling Rambutan, and the photo above shows this giant market compound that sell food, fish, meat, and produce everyday.

Some beautiful colors you can’t find in a supermarket found at a farmers market in Santa Barbara, CA.

One of my favorite markets to visit up near Moss Landing, CA. It was kiwi season, so we got 10 giant kiwis for $1. We ate so many, and went back for more.

Below is a market on the streets in Buenos Aires where we got some of the best cheese of my life. Argentina is known for its high quality beef, and from high quality livestock comes high quality cheese.

December 12, 2014

When we were in Germany a few months ago, I was lucky enough to get invited to shoot photos of an historic bakery in Gengenbach that has been making traditional wood fired bauernbrot, which is farmer’s bread. It’s a simple loaf made with natural leaven, wheat, and rye flour. It isn’t pretty like a fancy French style loaf with huge air pockets in the crumb and a perfect crust, but it is packed full of flavor and is a staple bread for many Germans. They make over 1,000 loaves a day from this bakery to sell at markets and at the bakery. The most impressive part of the bakery is that all the bread is made by two men that split a 12 hour shift. One starts at midnight firing up the ovens, mixing dough, shaping, and then baking around 500 loaves, and then the next guy comes to pull the loaves out, fire up the ovens again, mix more dough, shape, and bake several more batches.

This place was incredible. This handmade style of wood fired baking has long been replaced with modern commercial bakeries that pump out homogenous loaves lacking any semblance of a soul. If bread could have a soul, this bread had it. Every aspect of this place gave me a glimpse of how life was here for generations. The giant millstone out front still stands after a great fire devastated the town in 1689, and I couldn’t even imagine how many loaves came from this place since it was first built as the monastery bakery in the 1400’s.There were 6 dual layer ovens. Each oven holds 70 loaves, and the bread takes an hour to bake. The baker has a sequence of firing, mixing dough, shaping, loading and unloading each oven one at a time as he moves down the row of ovens. It takes perfect timing to make sure he doesn’t over bake or under bake any batch. The system was so efficient that the baker didn’t even look stressed – even though he was juggling 5 labor intensive processes all by himself. And he also made 70 flat breads in between baking the bread to add another layer of complexity.

The baker had to load all 70 loaves as fast as he could so they would all bake evenly. Without looking, he would grab one off the rack and tossed it two feet onto the small peel and shoveled it into the oven so they almost touched. I couldn’t believe how quickly he pulled this off without messing up once.

December 4, 2014

It seems like a lot of people I know don’t like mushrooms. They flee from them like the plague. They’re probably traumatized from multiple experiences with terribly cooked button mushrooms, so they refuse to try them anymore. Or they might not like the texture – don’t get me started on that. It’s a shame because there are so many varieties that offer such wildly unique flavors, and everything deserves a try.

At the San Francisco farmers market I found a farmer selling unique organic mushrooms. I got some Nameko, Lion’s mane, hedgehog, black trumpet, king trumpet, oyster, and maitake mushrooms. I cooked them over the campfire when I was passing through Big Sur.  I’m not exaggerating when I say that these mushrooms tasted better than bacon juice injected beef dipped in butter. I used my favorite method frying in a dry pan (explained below) with the added bonus of oak smoke from the fire.

Here are some tips on how to properly prepare mushrooms so you can convert some mushroom haters you know.

1. Pick some interesting varieties. We all know what button and crimini mushrooms taste like, so try something different. There is usually someone specializing in mushrooms at most farmers markets, and all Asian markets have a more interesting selection of dried and fresh.

2. Don’t wash them!!! Please refrain from ruining the mushrooms. They are like sponges that pickup all the water you put on them. This makes them chewy and water logged. Most come pretty clean because they don’t really pickup that much dirt – depending on how they are grown. If they do have dirt on them, simply wipe the dirt off with a damp cloth or paper towel. This is very important.

3. Dry pan fry. Try adding them to a well seasoned cast iron pan or nonstick WITHOUT oil on medium heat. Let them fry to evaporate the moisture. This will allow you to brown them a bit and even make them crispy if you like. I like to add oil and garlic after 5 minutes in the pan. If you add the oil too early the mushrooms soak it up right away.

4. Don’t overcrowd the pan. Moisture will come out of the mushrooms as they cook, so to avoid boiling them in a puddle of water, leave space so the moisture can evaporate quickly.

5. Keep it simple. I like to just add salt and pepper. Sometimes I might add creme, garlic, or butter.

6. Ultra crispy. Slice some giant trumpets ultra thin on a mandolin slicer and add them to the pan wiped with a little oil and cook them on low until they dehydrate and crisp up. This makes an epic garnish.

7. Mushrooms on toast. Toast some good bread and rub with a garlic clove cut in half. Then add the mushrooms on top and garnish with some spicy greens (I used nasturtium leaves in this photo).

8. Marinate. You can marinate even boring button mushrooms to make them interesting. I use a mixture of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, minced garlic, minced shallot, salt, and pepper. Marinate for a few hours and then saute.

November 13, 2014

Last year we traveled to Spain, and when we were in Santiago de Compostela we found a market with a guy selling octopus from a small food cart. The other night I was reading an article in San Diego Magazine about how octopus is blowing up in all the restaurants in San Diego. Check out the article here if you are interested. This reminded me of our street lunch in Santiago where we tried octopus for the first time. The only problem with trying it in Spain for the first time is that it has been really hard to top that experience since then.

Octopus is tough to cook – it is literally tough. An octopus is basically comprised of all muscle, so it can be a challenge to relax the meat enough to avoid being chewy. I’ve heard of sushi chefs massaging the meat for 2-3 hours to tenderize it. One sushi chef I talked to said you either cook it super fast and hot or extremely long and low. The guy in Santiago had the long and low method down to a science because he would pull out this beautiful octopus from his caldron of mystery that has been slowly breaking it down for the last day until he cuts a portion up for a customer. He was a man of simplicity as he just added some insanely good olive oil (I mean insanely good), sea salt, and a bit of paprika. It blew my mind and the experience will be etched in my mind forever.

February 15, 2013

Last summer I had the opportunity to shoot some Olympic triathletes a few weeks before the London Olympics down in Costa Rica. They were staying on this unassuming strawberry farm/training center at 7,000 feet on volcano Irazu just outside of San Jose. It was a minimal little house down a dirt road in the middle of the farmlands. There was no need to shut the door because the whole house was made up of these leaking windows. Weather changes were constant – sunny one minute giving way to dense fog minutes later. One night the wind knocked out the power for a few hours. This was a common occurrence, so Leo fired up his truck to give us light for a few hours until bedtime.

During an after-workout nap, I had time to wander and shoot. Talking to the owner of the farm, I asked where all these strawberries go. He told me they all go to the US. I’ve never felt a connection with food imported from other countries, but this made me imagine all the cool little farms all over the world that supply us with a good portion of our food. I often picture these farms as acres of monoculture, but looking around most were only about 5 acres or smaller. This farmer tends the whole fields with one other helper. While I was shooting, they were hand watering each plant with calcium. Seeing this man’s hard work and humble operation made me really appreciate the process of growing food.

When I was talking to Leo and Manny about how they change their diet in the weeks leading up to the Olympics they told me that they didn’t change a thing. They still eat rice and beans everyday with some meat and vegetable. It’s amazing how much power you can get from such a simple staple food. I don’t think I ever saw an empty crock-pot in the house; black beans were on tap 24/7. We started every meal with fresh fruit, and the flavors they got out of such simple ingredients was amazing. I noticed they used a combination of finely chopped celery, green pepper, onion, and cilantro in many dishes.

January 8, 2013

My brother Nate went to Tijuana for a weekend and came back raving about the way they drink coffee. This recipe is just brewed coffee with whole cinnamon and cane sugar. The cinnamon and cane sugar make it sweet enough to drink black. Try this with some high quality light or medium roast coffee, and I think you’ll love it – even if your used to drinking Starbucks with 17 pumps of sugar and cream.

Here is the recipe:

  • 1 cup burnt over brewed coffee
  • 6 pumps cinnamon
  • 8 pumps caramel
  • 12 pumps sugar syrup
  • I’m just kidding – I’m not about to “pump” anything into my coffee

Here is the real recipe using whole ingredients:

  • 2 cups of properly brewed coffee
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick crushed up
  • Cane sugar to taste

You can french press the coffee and the cinnamon together for a lighter cinnamon flavor OR you can take brewed coffee and simmer it on low in a pot with the cinnamon and cane sugar. Either way, its up to you. Fiddle around with the amounts you until you get it the way you want. Just don’t use powdered cinnamon because it has a completely different flavor, and it doesn’t really work.

December 18, 2012

When I was in Costa Rica, I ate this combination of rice and beans every morning, which they called gallo pinto. This same thing eaten at lunch is called arroz y frijoles (rice and beans), but for some reason they call it something different for breakfast. I thought that eating rice and beans for breakfast would be odd, but it turned out to be a really good way to start my day. The combination makes a complete protein, and it is surprisingly delicious with ham and eggs. I also had more energy throughout the day because this is a powerful combination. As soon as I came home, I tried to recreate what I ate down south, and this is what I came up with.

Recipe for 2 Servings:

  • 1 cup cooked rice
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 small pepper (half a large pepper)
  • 1 tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes)
  • small handful of cilantro
  • 1/2 stick of celery
  • Juice from 1/2 lime
  1. Cook rice and beans from dry (or used canned beans). You can cook the rice and beans the night before and eat some for dinner, and make a little extra for the next morning.
  2. Finely chop pepper, tomato, cilantro, and celery.
  3. Add lime juice. Mix everything together and serve with eggs.
December 11, 2012

Last week I took a trip up to Santa Cruz, CA to chill amongst the redwoods and share some good food with friends. They took us to the most epic roadside produce stand that you could tell evolved over the years into a shanty town of inexpensive local food. It was like a mini swap meet with tons of deals. If you ever find yourself driving Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Monterrey, look for the signs. You’ll find it.

All the farmlands in this area are filled with either brussel sprouts or artichokes.

They had an epic deal on squash, so I got about 20 because they were about 50 cents a piece! They keep for several months in the right dry cool conditions, and my fiance and I love squash soup which is the easiest thing to make. I’ll put a recipe for this using these squash in the next post.

The kiwis were 10 for a $1. These kiwis were no ordinary kiwis, they were mega kiwis. Some of them were like 2-3 normal kiwis in one. They were almost as big as my whole hand. I got 40. We’ve almost eaten them all. They were delicious.

My first visit costed me only $17 for all the produce you see below. Of course I had to go back to get more squash on my way back home. I’m no rookie when it comes to buying epic produce.

September 15, 2012

I had an opportunity to shoot in Costa Rica a month ago, and after my assignment was done, I wondered the markets looking for good food. On the corner of a street outside San Jose, I found this little fruit stand with the coolest vendor I met on the trip. He gave me all these samples, and introduced me to the Rambutan fruit. It tastes just like Lychee, but it has these crazy hairs on the outside. They are super good, and I recently found them at 99 Ranch market, which is an insanely good Asian market. They have a seed in the center, which you obviously don’t eat, that is surrounded by this opaque jelly like fruit. If you find them, give them a try. It’s worth looking for.

July 23, 2012

I met a lifeguard in Kauai that was making the most grass roots sashimi I’ve ever seen. His friend caught the fish right in front of his patrol, and he filleted it right on the cement footing of his tower. Then he bummed some soy sauce from a camper nearby and some wasabi from another lifeguard. He just cut the fish into chunks, added soy sauce and wasabi, and was good to go. Good quality fresh fish right from the ocean needs no more prep than that. But if your going to do this yourself remember to buy sushi grade fish, or you’ll probably get the trotts. Or catch it yourself.