Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I have moved, sort of.

I'm still in transition but have a post up on the new blog.

Go to jameseats.com

I'm still working on the images, but I'm sick and tired. Time to sleep.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Summer of Roots

Each season, I seems to select a food theme. Living in Austin means only two distinct seasons exist and that I have to make the most of each theme. Themes pop up in many area of my life. For instance, I've decided to spend the summer drinking copious amounts of pastis and playing pétanque. Whether or not I chose the themes or they chose me is up for debate.

For instance, in my CSA box today, I found a bunch of turnip greens. In my search for a great pairing, I zeroed in on some lima beans: a meal that I used to eat as a child. All that was missing was some cornbread.

My family grew up in Northern Louisiana and we had rice and beans four nights out of seven. Some sort of greens usually accompanied each dish and bacon was usually started the cooking process. The food was simple and hearty. Focusing on my childhood cuisine seems pertinent. I'm trying to eat simpler, healthier foods that don't break the bank. Rice, beans, and greens fit that description pretty well.

Simpler and healthier has been my focus lately. I don't know if it's maturity or the fact that I'm getting older, wiser, and chili dogs with 13 beers hurts like hell these days. Something tells me it's the latter. I've also become aware of my physical state and want to look and feel my best. This has resulted in me eating less processed foods to the point where they are now unpalatable. I look for foods with the least number of ingredients and now go through the trouble to make beef stroganoff from scratch instead of from a packet because it tastes better and I know exactly what goes into it. As revolution happens inside of me, I notice similar changes happening all around me. Natural grocers are becoming more and more prevalent. There are more cyclists on the road each year. I hope this trend continues and reaches beyond cities like Austin into small towns and stores like Safeway and Kroger.

Regardless of what happens in the world, I'm returning to my roots of Lousiana cuisine and am excited. Cornbread, beans, rice, gumbo, étouffée, and more gumbo. I can't go wrong.

P.S. I have not yet moved to my new URL simply because it has involved more than I thought and I'm trying to get it right the first time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Moving to the Big Time

After saying jameseats.blogspot.com too many times, I'm growing up and getting serious. The first step in this is to get rid of the blogspot part. They've been good to me but it's time to move from britches to slacks. In 48 hours, I will be jameseats.com. I'll post for the last time here when the new site is up.

Thanks for reading and I hope you will make the move with me.


*photo by Ross Berteig

Monday, April 6, 2009

Long Live Leftovers

Don't you hate when perfectly good food rots in your fridge? In my kitchen, this happens all of the time. No matter how hard I try to eat everything, veggies get slimy, fruits get fuzzy, and cottage cheese morphs into another type of cheese, which is why I'm elated each time I figure out a way to simultaneously rid myself of more than one item.

Having a CSA box arrive every two weeks creates a lot of these situations. In addition to the foods that satisfy my capricious cravings, there's always a box of delicate perishables speeding towards death. In order to save my veggies from the compost, I am forced to get creative, and sometimes it takes a lot of creativity to reach the obvious solution: BBQ and greens.

You might be asking yourself if there's anything with which BBQ doesn't go. There isn't. And I proclaim myself a genius every time I add it to a dish, but I'm simply following that natural order of things: BBQ is awesome. Add it to something and you get awesome. I now realize that I'm not a culinary genius, but rather, a simpleton who took too long to reach the obvious conclusion.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Home Provisions

After a week of non-stop bodily abuse (SXSW), I am trying to repay the sleep and nutritional debts. Luckily, Uchi gave out gift certificates at the Austin 360 food blogger party. The last two nights have been delicious. And expensive.

Who can stop at just $20 at Uchi where that might only buy you two bites? $150 later, I found myself taking stock of my own cupboard. After a thorough inspection, it appears that if the apocalypse were to come today, I would be able to survive for several months. So why do I buy so many groceries? It might have something to do with the grocery store being my happy place. A trip to Central Market has even fought off a panic attack in the past. It's my candy store. Regardless of the reasons, I need to use up all of this food. I have past meals frozen in personal-sized baggies, endless links of venison sausage, fresh vegetables, canned everything, TWO giant bottles of fish sauce, at least twenty cans of tuna and sardines, and the beans. I estimate that I have somewhere around 20 pounds of beans. What is a boy to do with all this food? Eat it? But I'm trying to cut down on how much I eat--swimsuit season is quickly approaching. I could stop dining out, but that would be giving up one of my favorite things inthe world, next to cleaning the sleep out of my eyes in the morning and taking my socks off at night.

I could do a good deed by donating some of it to the food bank. Too bad I'm selfish and want all the food. All right. I'll have to eat it, but it won't be easy. Maybe I need 20 pounds of beans. Maybe my dwindling stockpile will gradually force me to improvise better. Regardless of the results, it's not such a bad thing to have several months' worth of food already paid for.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

SXSW Is Coming

Each year I plan ahead and make spreadsheets for each of the various day parties. This is the first year that I will have a separate sheet for food deals and freebees. It'll be almost as important.

The major things I've sighted this year include the Yelp half price festival of all things tasty. To make a long story short, read up here. There's also Addie Broyles' ridiculously helpful list on Austin360.com

As far as my current picks, I'm going to be hitting up Uchi, Sugar Mama's, House Wine, Taverna, and the full Irish breakfast at BD Riley's. If I had $75, I would go to the BBQ crash course hosted by the great folks at Dishola.

There's so much to be excited about. And that's just the restaurant deals!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Una Pizza Napoletana

Imagine the best possible pizza and Una Pizza Napoletana is ten times better. It leaves you craving your next pizza and panicing as you realize that it will be at least 24 hours--even as you're eating one of their pies.

I first learned of UPN through a video on Chowhound. Anthony Mangieri--the owner--rants about his dedication to the art of a true pizza, why all pizzerias in New York stink, and why he doesn't take Napoletan pizza makers in America seriously. His confidence comes across as cocky but something about him made me a believer. On my recent trip to New York, I made sure to visit his pizzeria to see if it he deserved the confidence.

Una Pizza Napoletana is located at 12th street and 1st avenue. I've spoken to many people who claim that as their old neighborhood and have never heard of it. The unassuming facade doesn't look like anything special. There isn't a line out the door and the small dining room is rather indistinguishable from nearby restaurants. It would be easy to pass by it daily and never notice it: Easy and sad because it might be the best pizza in the country.

There are only four pizzas on the menu and no build-your-own option. The toppings range between four and six simple ingredients. Varying combinations of San Marzano tomatoes, extra-virgin olive oil, oregano, fresh garlic, fresh basil, sea salt, buffalo mozzarella, and cherry tomatoes make up all four pizzas. Mangieri argues that each pizza has been calibrated to a perfect balance and adding more options would make his quality slip. It's hard to argue when you taste what he has done.

Each pizza is unique in shape and appearance. The wood-burning oven with its hot spots and fluctuating temperature gives each pizza its own personality. This isn't to say that the pizzas are inconsistent; Mangieri's loving attention proves to be highly consistent. I ordered the Filetti (Fresh cherry tomatoes, buffalo mozzarella, fresh garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil, sea salt) and after a tortuous wait that involved watching everyone else but me get a pizza, my pie arrived. With the first bite, all of my impatience vaporized. My experience was hard to describe then and now: While I was eating it, I couldn't pin down definite characteristics or tastes. Everything reached a level of harmony that was greater than the sum of the parts. I don't remember ingredients: I remember the pizza.

I've read some reviews online where people complain of how moist each pizza is and how it is almost soggy in the middle. First off, how did they eat it so slowly that they allowed it to become soggy? Second, did they taste the pizza nectar that was the juice? I ended up saving a piece of the crust to sop up the juice at the end. As the pizza quickly disappeared from my plate, it occured to me that it would be a while before I ate there again.

Milan Kundera wrote of the Czech word Litost, which roughly translates to mean the state of torment created by the sudden sight of one's own misery. I, like a heroin addict learning that it will be at least a year until his next fix, felt litost from finishing my pizza. Mangieri has created a dish that I would gladly eat until I died of gluttony. For someone who loves so many different foods, I can think of no better compliment.