Hye Thyme Cafe: Cookbook Review - On a Stick by Matt Armendariz

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Cookbook Review - On a Stick by Matt Armendariz

Have paper and pen handy, because within 30 seconds of opening this book, you'll be forming grocery and guest lists in your mind for the party these recipes cry out for!

I was not familiar with Matt's work until just recently, when I was given an opportunity to review Susan Russo's (FoodBlogga) latest offering, The Encyclopedia of Sandwiches. It was Matt who beautifully photographed those dishes, which were styled by Adam Pearson. In addition to being a food photographer, Matt teaches workshops on food photography and speaks at conferences on food styling and photography. He has also been blogging since 2005. You can find more of Matt's recipes and check out his photography and travel adventures at his blog, Matt Bites. With the help of Quirk Books, Matt and Adam teamed up again to give us On a Stick .......{80 Party-Perfect Recipes by Matt Armendariz}.......  

Being half Armenian, I've been skewering lamb for Shish Kebab since I was a kid, but that's about as far as it goes. Matt makes use of natural "sticks" such as sugarcane and rosemary spears, in addition to the universally recognizable kebab skewers and cocktail picks, to present both sweet and savory highbrow bites to fair-fare. He provides something for every palate.  Hmmm, I wonder if he and Adam were able to play on any of the rides at the state fair after indulging in all the inspiration those vendors provided??

Our family started a new tradition a few years back. Whoever is available on New Year's Eve gets together for a Fondue Night. We'll set up pots of melted cheeses, chocolates, etc. with platters of veggies, meats, breads, and fruits for dunking. I'm thinking we'll need to expand that to Stuff on Sticks Night. As a matter of fact, I was so drawn to some of the cocktail picks and other skewers that I think I need to start a new collection! When you get your copy of the book, check out the dual-action kebab skewers on p. 22 and tell me what you think. Those are my favorite; then the ones on pp. 106,  65, 66 ...  Heck, Matt even used a penny candy stick for a dipping stick to give us Chocolate-Tipped Peppermint Sticks! Although the idea of a deep-fried candy bar on a stick has me curious enough to try one some day, I think the candy-coated candy might be too much for me personally. Aside from that, I'm game to try all the other recipes Matt offers.

The book opens with a discussion on Sticks & Skewers, giving advice on the different types and which work best for different foods. We next turn to Dips & Sauces; no recipes yet, but an explanation and photograph of each, so your gears are already turning, mulling over what you might like to use them on before even seeing any of the recipes. As a matter of fact, I don't like cabbage, but he has a Sauerkraut Relish that is so pretty even I'm thinking of trying it!

The first half of the book focuses on savory dishes. One that I'm definitely planning to try (soon if an occasion arises) is his Fried Pickles with Ranch Dressing. Having lived in New Orleans for 13 years, I certainly ate my fair share of fried pickles, but they were always chips. I love the idea of the chip paired with a gherkin and a cocktail onion.

Fried Pickles
with Ranch Dressing

8 wooden cocktail picks
1 qt vegetable oil
23 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 eggs
2 tbsp buttermilk
1 tbsp dill, minced
112 cups seasoned bread crumbs
8 gherkins
8 cocktail onions
8 pickle chips
Salt and pepper
1 cup store-bought ranch dressing

If you’ve never tried fried pickles, you’re in for a treat. A staple of state fairs countrywide, these crunchy nuggets might seem like an oddity—until you take that first bite. The heat tempers the pickles’ vinegary-ness, resulting in a mellow, almost zucchini-like taste. I’ve kicked it up a notch by pairing sweet gherkins with cocktail onions and pickle chips. This trio of fried snacks skewered on a stick makes for a beautiful presentation. Serves 4

1. Preheat oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.

2. Mix flour and cayenne pepper in a shallow dish. In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, and dill. Place bread crumbs in a
second shallow dish.

3. Thread 1 gherkin, 1 cocktail onion, and 1 pickle chip on each cocktail pick. Once oil reaches 350ÅãF, toss skewers in flour
mixture, shaking off excess; dip in egg and then dredge in bread crumbs until fully coated.

4. Drop skewers gently into oil and fry 4 to 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with
ranch dressing.

I think he also just made our Japanese Night a lot easier! A few times a year, we'll all get together for a Japanese dinner, making Miso Soup, Salad with the traditional (in Japanese restaurants in the US anyhow) Orange/Ginger Dressing, White Rice, Sushi, Sukiyaki, Tempura, and plenty of Sake and Plum Wine (no, we don't make the booze ourselves). It never occurred to me to skewer a variety of veggies together and tempura them as a unit.  Thanks Matt!!

Another of my favorites in this section is the idea of Spaghetti and Meatballs on a stick! Since seeing this, I have felt a strong compulsion to make them, although I'm thinking about wrapping the pasta around the meatballs like those rubber band balls you see on people's desks, and skewering them with a skinny breadstick, served alongside a nice herb butter for dipping the rest of the breadstick.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

8 pop sticks
Homemade Meatballs
12 lb lean ground beef
2 tbsp minced yellow onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 egg white
2 tbsp seasoned bread crumbs
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 cups plus 3 tbsp vegetable oil,
12 lb cooked spaghetti
2 cups marinara sauce
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper

I know what you’re thinking: Spaghetti and meatballs on a stick? What was wrong with them on a plate? Well, you can relax. This recipe takes everyone’s favorite, pops it on a stick, fries it, and increases the fun factor by about a million. Seriously. Serves 4

1. Line a baking sheet and a shallow baking dish with parchment paper.

2. Make the meatballs: Place all meatball ingredients in a medium bowl and mix until well combined. Shape into 1-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheet.

3. Warm 3 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs and cook, turning to brown all sides, until just cooked through. Remove from heat and let cool.

4. Gently toss meatballs, spaghetti, marinara sauce, and Parmesan in a large bowl until thoroughly combined. Place mixture in the prepared baking dish, cover, and refrigerate at least 12 hours or up to overnight.

5. Preheat the remaining 5 cups of oil to 350ÅãF.  Cut chilled pasta mixture into 8 equal squares.  Remove squares from baking dish and insert a pop stick into each. Carefully place spaghetti sticks in pot, one at a time, and fry about 6 to 8 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve warm.

How fun is that? From shrimp to corndogs, salad to mac n' cheese, Matt covers the gamut in the savory arena before moving on to even more fun in the sweet section.

Here we see everyone's childhood favorites, from Candy Apples to Caramel Popcorn Balls (no more sticky fingers). Then there are the not-so-orderinary Fudge Puppies (waffle sticks dipped in chocolate and toppings), Sweet Tofu Dango (tofu dumplings with Sesame Sugar and Sweet Soy Sauce). See, I wasn't kidding when I said there was something for every palate.

Matt even managed to slip in a few cocktails, offering up Margarita Jell-O Shots and frozen Red and White Sangria Pops!

This cookbook gets a big F from me ... for FUN of course! Got kids? Bring out the blunt spears and set them to work. Come on people, we've got Cake Pops to poke, Shortcakes to skewer and Ice Cream Sandwiches to impale ... get out there and Stick It!

On a Stick .......{80 Party-Perfect Recipes by Matt Armendariz}.......  
ISBN: 9781594744891
Book Dimensions: 10 x 7
Page Count: 176
Release Date: May 3, 2011
Book Price: $16.95
Available at:

NOTE:  A review copy of the cookbook was provided to me by Quirk Books.  The photographs and recipes were re-printed with their permission.


  1. He really does have some cool stuff in there. :)

  2. I ate my first fried pickles in Austin, TX about 3 years and have been smitten ever since. That may just be the first recipe I try in Matt's book.

  3. Might be my first too. Although I haven't made marshmallows in a while, so maybe it will be the s'mores.


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