Thursday, February 24, 2011

Book Review: Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook

Occasionally I go through periods where I just can't motivate myself to go to the gym. I just don't see the point. When this happens and I get stuck in a rut, I like to pick up a glossy fitness magazine and fawn over beautiful people and read their magic workout tips. I don't realistically aspire to look like them, nor are most of their exercise tips accessible to me. But the point is that I understand again why I workout. A little bit of glamour and excitement makes my workouts more enjoyable.

Believe it or not I get in food ruts as well. I go through the every day grind of making three meals a day with limited time and budget and pretty soon I'm eating plain slices of bread for lunch. Each trip to the fridge brings dread as I think about the uninspired shelf of bland vegetables that awaits me. All I need is to be reminded of why I eat. Not just to sustain me but because it can be glamorous and exciting.

Who better than my hero Anthony Bourdain to provide this reminder along with some much needed humor? Enter the Les Halles Cookbook, a highly entertaining read that will impress any Bourdain fan and many others. I keep returning to him in my time of need, mostly because I just need to be assured that food is about pleasure, and that there is joy in the (quest for the) perfect meal. I know they say that emotional eating is bad, but when done right I think combining emotions and food is something that we all should aspire to.

I also appreciate his brazen honesty. Many of his recipes require more time, money and equipment than the average home cook has access to. But he's not writing some Sandra Lee guide to home cooking on a budget, nor do his recipes have any redeeming healthful qualities. This is hearty, classic, french fare. Like the glossy fitness magazines, sometimes it's just the inspiration that counts. The thought of the perfectly cooked pot-au-feu or cassoulet is enough to get me back in the kitchen with renewed vigor.

As a practical guide, this is also a wonderful introduction to some terminology that every respectable foodie should know. If you don't already have a solid basic french cookbook, or if you just really appreciate Bourdain's cynical and humorous writing as much as I do, put this one on your wishlist.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Virginia is for eaters!

Virginia might be well known for it's wineries, and perhaps a few specialty items like peanuts or ham, but like most small towns (I use that term loosely) Charlottesville is probably not well known as a foodie mecca. I'm here to make the case that large metropolises are not the only places with great food cultures. As an aspiring food scholar, I could not have picked a better setting. Here are the reasons why:

1. Southerners know a thing or two about comfort food.

I live a block from a humble roadside stand with some truly legendary fried chicken. Philly might have scrapple but we've got pimento cheese. Oh and how did I not know about collard greens? I've also fulfilled my lifelong  dream of  tasting the glorious monstrosity that is the Kentucky Hot Brown, see below. (Ok, that last one is native to Kentucky, but I don't see them serving it up north.)  I'm not saying I'm a regular Paula Deen or anything. But when the mood strikes, an open faced ham, turkey and bacon sandwich soaked in cheese gravy really hits the spot...

2. It's locavore's paradise.

Local Polyface Farm  attracted national attention in the movie Food, Inc. but it seems like local food isn't just a trend but a part of everyday life around here. One local upscale restaurant features produce from a different local family's farm each week. There are community gardens almost everywhere. They grow apples here like it's nobody's business. The tofu made by the local co-op Twin Oaks is the best I've ever had. All the tofu and apples I've been eating cancel out the fried chicken right?

3. They don't lack in variety.

Besides the aforementioned fried chicken joint, I also happen to live on the same block as an awesome dive bar (that serves up some great BBQ), a fancy pizza place, a thai restaurant, and a mexican restaurant. Don't worry, we have our fair share of fancy french places, sushi bars, and trendy fusion places too.

Ok, there is one thing that this place lacks. C'Ville could use a few good food trucks. Yeah there's a local donut truck that drives around sometimes. But in a college town like this, a few strategically placed lunch trucks would make a killing. There's nothing like a breakfast sandwich hot off the griddle. I'm pretty sure that was one of my basic food groups when I lived in Philly. I've tried mightily to recreate it. It can't be done.

So there you have it folks. All of you big city snobs should consider that small town life isn't as bad as you might think. You can have your locally raised organic sausage and eat it too.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

In Case You Were Wondering...

Avocado and grapefruit do not taste good together, I don't care what Ina Garten says.

So here's the story. (Because there's always a story...) Inspired by a recent shipment of those heavenly grapefruits I told you about a while back, I decided to get creative. There's only so many grapefruits a girl can eat for breakfast you know.

So there I was at the local market with grapefruit and avocado on the brain when I spotted some jicama. Don't ask me what I was thinking. It had been a long week.

What is jicama you ask? If you've never watched Food Network before it's basically like eating a raw potato with a hint of apple. Yum.

Surprisingly the jicama wasn't the problem here. It was my first time eating it, and I have to say I kind of like it. Which is good since I now have half a jicama sitting in my fridge. The jicama and the grapefruit are a welcome combo. Together they make a salad that is fresh, not too sweet, with a bit of crunch. Perfect after the winter doldrums of potatoes and greens.

You'd think the creamy mild avocado might lend something here. I'm still trying to pinpoint what that is, but it wasn't good. But I'll include some pics and the recipe anyways because it's just so darn pretty and healthy! I tried really hard to like it, and maybe the avocado I used was a little bland and overripe. (Also, I think people should share more of their failed experiments so that we could all learn from them and have a good laugh while we're at it. I'd love to see a blog devoted to that. In fact I already have more than a few good entries in mind.)


1 large grapefruit, peeled and segmented, with its juice
Half a jicama, peeled and diced (save the rest for slaw)
1 avocado, diced
Coarsely ground sea salt to taste
Splash of lime juice

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.Oooh and aah for a bit. Taste. Order some pizza instead.