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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I just spoke with a friend and discovered the path of a stomach bug that made its way straight to my tummy. Maybe The Woodland was not to blame.

Dear Woodland,

I am sorry for possibly falsely accusing you.


(The steak still sucked and the meal was underwhelming).

New York Odyssey

I'm leaving for New York tomorrow and hope to eat my weight in food. I've decided on making the trip pretty casual and cheap. Les Halles (I love Brasseries) and the Bouchon bakery are my only fancy stops. Maybe a meal at a MoMA cafe. Besides that, I'm eating and living like my friends in Bushwick. Oh, I'm also going to the pizza place featured here. Who can resist a place with a chef like that?

Any dining suggestions I should alter my plans for?

Desk Eaters

What is the point of leaving work to pick up food and eat it back at your desk? It still takes the same amount of time to eat, regardless of location. Meals deserve more attention than inhaling it while staring at a screen.

(I'm annoyed at coworkers who must always bring food back.)

Poisoning Is Personal

I'm a veteran when it comes to food poisoning. Almost everything has gotten me: salmonella, random little buggies from stuff left in the fridge too long, and all the bad things lurking in ill-kept buffets.

The other night, I go food poisoned by something. I don't know what specifically was the culprit and want to keep it that way. Meatloaf and fried oysters are delicious. I don't want my body to recoil at the thought of them. So now I focus my revulsion at the restaurant itself.

Your body tries to figure out what is attacking it and decides not to eat that again. The thought of no longer being able to eat a beloved dish terrifies me. In order to combat this, I always pick the dish or ingredient I like the least. Something must be sacrificed. this usually works out, but I often have to create some fairly crazy rationalizations for why the sink tried to kill me.

One thing that always catches me by surprise when poisoned is my compliance with fasting for a day. I have absolutely no appetite. Only then do I realize that my appetite rules every part of my day and my thought process. I feel lost without it and become one of those people who forget to eat. What a nightmare.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Restaurant Woes

The Woodland is officially on my shit list. Food poisoning and most lackluster steak ever. I am underwhelmed.

Their drinks and pot pie are good, though.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Valentine's Mayhem

Love or hate Valentine's Day (usually depending on your situation), it can be a source of anxiety. What do you do? Go out, stay in, opt out, or burn pictures of your Ex? While Restaurants--and grocery stores--are my favorite places in the world, I tend to stay away on holidays such as new year's eve and Valentine's Day. It's amateur night, and if you're like me, restaurants are your church: Christmas eve and Easter are jam-packed.

There's also the issue of set menus. While I like surrendering control to the chef, I don't like a boring, set menu that's overpriced. So bah humbug to restaurants on holidays.

While going out can be special and an event, food cooked at home can mean more. I believe that food is love, so there's nothing better on Valentine's Day than pouring your heart into asparagus, mashed potatoes, and hanger steak--or whatever dish is your love's favorite.

That being said, I don't know what I will be doing this Saturday. Both ideas sound great: Something made at home--maybe duck, maybe rillettes--or some place nice and not a typical destination. (I'm vague because my gal reads this.) I'll let you know when it's all said and done. I did meet one of the co-authors of Intercourses: an aphrodisiac cookbook (real food porn) this evening and might have to try something from it for the big night.

*Photo by Butterfly Sha on flickr

Thursday, January 29, 2009

How Much Is Too Much?

I want to go to Masa in New York. I am broke and a meal there could cost anywhere from $500 to $800. Walking in the door costs a minimum of $400. I can't afford it but I would still pay. Food is my passion and what I spend most of my money on. And I want to spend it at Masa.

Why Masa? Not sure actually. I've read much about it and the skills of chef Masa Takayama. It's appears guaranteed to blow my mind. Anthony Bourdain highly recommends it. Everybody else has equally high praises. The only complaint is the price, which most people tend to conclude is worth the experience. But is it worth it? Would I, an average kid in Austin, get a meal worth eating rice and beans for months?

I don't know the answer. Part of me knows that I can still get fantastic food for under $100, which is still a lot of money. New York is packed with great restaurants, grand and small. I'm visiting friends there in February and have quickly turned it into a food pilgrimage. That is exactly how I am trying to rationalize spending a paycheck on a single meal when I am having trouble making ends meet.

I'm going insane with indecision. Not because I doubt it would be worth it; I don't know if I want to pay that much for anything right now. I'll let you know what happens, regardless of where I end up going.

*Photo courtesy of Peter Bond.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A New Love

I've been slowly falling for Thai food and fell head-over-heels in love recently after a backpacking trip. My end-of-hike tradition is a cheeseburger and a beer. You wouldn't believe how quickly you can hike ten miles when a cheeseburger awaits, but this time I chose a spicy dish from Titaya's that simply blew my mind.

I'm white. Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, and Curries are the only things I have ordered. Even when I ask for a new and spicy dish, the server takes one look at me and selects a similarly unadventurous dish. Like many times before, I asked for something new and said that I ate anything and wanted to try a new flavor, especially something spicy. When the plate arrived, it was Pad Kra Prao: stir-fried shrimp, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, basil, and Thai chilies in a thin but plentiful brown sauce. These flavors were familiar. No kaffir lime or exotic meats. So I guess the server listened to me--sort of.

I was disappointed until I tasted it. Boy howdy, It was spicy. Like instant allergic reaction spicy. And with the heat came flavor, which is weird for me. My family tends use cayenne pepper sauce liberally and everything tastes like cayenne. This spice was different. It amplified other flavors around it, much like Szechwan peppercorns--only hotter. Much hotter.

Half way through the meal my burning lips had had enough, but my tongue demanded more. I had never eaten so much of something so hot. I was happily pushing my boundaries simply because I couldn't get enough of the taste. When I finished, my nose was running, my lips swollen, my head felt warm from a surge of blood to the capillaries, and I didn't know whether or not I was going to vomit.

It was incredible. I felt high. The peppers had heightened taste, smell, and the ability to know exactly at which angle my head was. The people asking for painful spice levels I once rolled my eyes at started to make sense. Once you reach a certain level, you transcend ordinary pain and ride a wave of endorphins. A heat-seeking classmate once described the experience as one of panic where you wonder if you should call your mother. I now want that but not just pure spice; that wouldn't provide the same experience. There has to be a flavor explosion as well as a heat explosion.

I immediately walked over to a bookstore and purchased a Thai cookbook and have been busy cooking since. This will be a lifelong love affair, and I'm sure you'll hear more soon.

*Photo by Garry Knight

Friday, January 16, 2009

Best Food Gift That Isn't Food

A picture of a hot dog. Thank you, S.K..

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I'm a Genius

Sriracha sauce on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Sounds weird but when you think about it, Thai food has elements of peanuts and sweetness in it. Try it. Be amazed.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cakes, Pies, and Freeze-Dried Food

Instead of spending my time on a holiday wrap-up describing the food I stuffed myself with, I'm heading for the mountains of Big Bend. Too much family time necessitates some time where my fellow man is scattered. While there, I'll be dining on Cliff bars and freeze-dried foods with titles such as Wild West Chili, Black Bean Tamale Pie, and Lasagna with Meat Sauce. All of it is sure to taste delicious after lugging a pack up and down mountains.

I once read that you should never taste test backpacking food at home. It will taste of cardboard. Directly after reading this, I went out, bought a meal, and prepared it at home. I've never tasted beef stroganoff (tastiest backpacking food ever) so vile. This only proves that the hunger factor can be extremely important. My Wild West Chili might even taste better than my aunt's deviled eggs--or at least I can hope.