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I'm a guy who likes to cook, eat, and drink, but not necessarily in that order. This blog is nothing fancy; just my random thoughts about anything that can be baked, roasted, or fried. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Foodie's Trip to France

Today, I just got back from a week-long trip to Paris, France. As many of you know, I am an admitted Francophile, especially when it comes to French food and cooking. Over the next several weeks, this blog will focus on my trip. These posts will discuss French cookbooks on how to cook "American" (today's), Parisian cafe culture, drinking in Hemingway's bars, going to the market and cooking at home, and perhaps an attempt to understand why the French seem so obsessed about food. 

Here's the first one in this Parisian Series, called:

Bubble Tea

The Parisians love books.There seem to be bookstores on every corner. And Parisians take them everywhere, into cafes and brasseries. One day after lunch, I stopped in a bookstore that looked promising. Instinctively, I found myself in the cookbook section of the store. Consequently, I found an interesting little book titled, 100 Recettes Made in USA (“100 Recipes Made in the USA”). After wondering why anyone in France would buy such a book (albeit it was only 5,95€), I was nonetheless curious to see what the French considered to be “American” food. The first section is called Sur le Pouce, which means “on the go,” I guess this is so because the French think Americans always move and eat (whether in cars or on our feet), rather than sit down for a languid noonday meal for an hour and an half with a bottle of wine. (Of course, they would be right.) 

The first recipe is for making one’s own hot dog buns and hamburger buns. I’m not making this up. If you followed this recipe, it would take you about an hour and half to make ten buns. Perhaps the French don’t realize that Americans don’t make anything from scratch, much less hot dog or hamburger buns. And why should we? I doubt most French people make their own croissants or baguettes, for the simple reason that neither we nor they have the time. Even in Los Angeles, you can barely get to the store and back in less than an hour and a half. I can also think of a lot of other things I would rather do in an hour and a half rather than make hotdog buns: watch the first half of a college football game or enjoy a languid noonday meal with a bottle of wine. In the book, there are also recipes for making your own bagels, ketchup, BBQ sauce, and mayonnaise. Again, why bother? Just buy it at the store. That’s the American way!

The first section in the book also has a recipe for French fries! Aren’t these French? Isn’t it just a bit ironic that a French cookbook with recipes for American fast food has a recipe for French fries? Yet the most intriguing recipe was for something called “Pizza Hot Dog.” And while I did find a few “Hot Dog Pizza” recipes on the Internet, I still don’t consider this enough of an American culinary phenomenon to have been placed in a French cookbook on American food.

The next section is called Classiques Américains (“American Classics”). This section made a bit more sense. This section has recipes for such true American classics such as meatloaf, fried chicken, and chili. But then there are the outliers: pumpkin soup with cheddar cheese (not sure I’ve seen this one at Thanksgiving); Haitian soup; and something called Butte pastry.

The book also had a dessert section, which also provided to be no less interesting than the others with a few surprises thrown in. As one would expect, there were recipes for apple pie, pumpkin pie, brownies, red velvet cake, and chocolate chip cookies. But the book also had a recipe for pancakes, blueberry pancakes, banana bread, and corn bread, items that Americans typically don’t consider dessert foods.

The last section, Boissons (“Drinks”) contained recipes for milkshakes and smoothies. OK, I can see that, but what about egg nog? Most Americans don’t like egg nog, and when they drink it, it is only during the holidays. But then perhaps the most bizarre items in the cook book kicked in. Something called “bubble teas.”  What?! They come in various flavors like sesame, coconut, and mint and contain tapioca.  A little of Internet research revealed that these drinks originated in Taiwan and are somewhat popular in France. So, I’m not sure how this got into a cookbook claiming to be dedicated to American food.

Brillat Savarin once said, “if you show me what you eat, I’ll show who you are.” To expand upon that phrase, one could say that if I show you a nation’s cookbook, I could tell you about that country.  That may be true, unless it’s in French and its a so-called American cookbook. I wonder what the French would have to say about our “French” cookbooks.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

36 Hours in Williamsburg, Virginia

A few weeks ago, I headed back to Williamsburg, Virginia, the home of my alma mater, the College of William & Mary. The purpose of the trip was to celebrate my birthday (referenced briefly in my previous post), or in this case my “birthday weekend.” It had been many years since I’d had visited the ‘Burg, much to the chagrin of the Alumni Association. But then again, it’s not like I can hop in the car for a Saturday football game: Williamsburg is 704 miles from Birmingham, Alabama, according to Google Maps. 

Williamsburg is really not the town it was when I was a student there, particularly from a gastronomic perspective. Back then, it was delis, pizza, and ramen noodles (a hot pocket if it was a special occasion!). But then again, I was a college student, a demographic group not known for good judgment, much less good taste. The one fancy restaurant in town was The Trellis (still there, although under new ownership since I was a student). Of course, the only time you graced its doors was during Parents’ Weekend. And then you had to deal with your mom scowling at your wrinkled, beer stained button down, which constituted “dressing up.” Then there was Berrett’s Seafood (still there), but seafood is expensive so we only went there occasionally for happy hour. (This is where I had to instruct my best friend’s younger brother that slapping your hand on the bar and barking “barkeep” is the quickest way to get pegged as an underaged drinker!)

As I mentioned above, there were the “delis,” which served subs, hoagies, or grinders (depending on where you are from),  but were also bars. (My favorite was Paul’s Deli (still there). My favorite sandwich was the “Sailor,” which of course brought about snickers when someone asked you what you were going to eat…. . (I never promised a PG-rated blog folks!)  Right next door to Paul’s Deli was The Green Leafe, which may be my favorite bar of all time. My credit card bills were certainly testament to this fact. This bar was strict about carding, so it was the domain exclusively of juniors and seniors, which made it seem very grown up, especially when you would run into one of your professors on a Friday afternoon. Not for nothing was The Green Leafe known as the unofficial faculty club in a town where the university actually did not have one of its own.

And so it was with these memories that I arrived in Williamsburg on a Friday evening in March, twenty-two years after graduation. Would it hold up to my nostalgia?

Dinner that night was at a restaurant called The Fat Canary. Interesting name, no doubt. It really has nothing to do with an overweight yellow bird in a cage. It comes from an old colonial poem. When ships sailed from the Old World to the New, they would stop in the Canary Islands for supplies. Of course, one of the more important provisions was wine, which was referred to as “Canary.” The colonial playwright John Lyly penned a poem about canary: “Oh for a bowl of fat canary, rich Palermo sparkling sherry… .” And a rich bowl of Canary I had.

We started off with crispy Rappahannock oysters with sweet onions, tomatoes, and espelette pepper and seared foie gras, hazelnut toast, blackberries, and watercress. For my entrée, I had a heritage-breed pork chop, goat cheese soufflé, golden apple sauce, and grilled onion. Dessert was crème brûlée—one of my favorites! This was such a great meal, which gives credence to that fact that Williamsburg has become a food-lover’s town. (Not surprising because The Fat Canary is owned by the same family that owns the Cheese Shop, another venerable Williamsburg institution.)

The next morning we walked over to “Dog Street” for the weekly farmers market. Now there really isn’t a street in Williamsburg named “Dog.” “D.O.G. Street” is actually short for “Duke of Gloucester Street.” But “DOG Street” is how the locals refer to it. Now keep in mind that Williamsburg is both a tourist attraction and a college town. And students being students, we would take great delight in giving directions to “tourons” (part tourist, part moron) that referenced “Dog Street,” knowing that they would spend the better part of the afternoon trying to get back to their hotel, with two or three screaming toddlers in tow. Yeah, I know, it was a jerk move, but we were college students. 

Anyway, back to the farmer’s market.

Williamsburg never had anything like this when I was a student in the Burg: fresh seafood, grass-fed beef, artisanal cheeses, and French pastries made by an actual French woman from Normandy. In short, a foodie paradise!  And yet, we didn’t find a single thing for dinner that night, perhaps because it was the first market of the year, and produce was limited in availability.

By this time, lunch approached. We had lunch at the Dog Street Pub, a name which has probably clued in the tourons, much to the chagrin of the latest batch of W&M students. Great little gastropub, new to the ‘Burg within the last few years, with a good selection of craft brews. (We’ve come a long way from the days when Sam Adams was a craft brew.) I had endive salad with serrano ham, Stilton blue cheese, red peppers, toasted walnuts, and honey dressing. Yes, I know this is not typical pub food, but after the previous night’s feast, I had to had pace myself.

After a walk through Colonial Williamsburg, it was off to Trader Joe’s to get food for dinner. We never had a Trader Joe’s when I was a student, instead we had to rely on frozen dinners and pre-packaged food at the local Food Lion. But then again, we lived on pizza delivery and ramen noodles.

The Birthday Present
Dinner with friends is the best kind of dinner there is. My college friend Andrew and I had decided to divide dinner. He’s a foodie and loves to cook as do I.  To avoid any tension in the kitchen, we each cooked certain portions of the meal, rather than one being the “sous chef” and the other being the “chef de cuisine.” This worked out well. Andrew prepared the chicken and beef, along with asparagus. The chicken and beef were accompanied by excellent pan sauces. I made pomme frites with my new deep fryer (birthday present!), glazed carrots, and Laura Robinson brownies for dessert. But the real treat of the evening was the leek velouté made with the Vitamix. I wrote about my leek velouté in a previous post made with an immersion blender. But I must admit that I’m now smitten with the Vitamix. This thing took my soup and turned it into liquid silk.

But the food at dinner, though good, was not the main attraction. It never is, or should be, when one has dinner with friends. This one was of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had in a long time. Over food and wine, we talked; we laughed; we reminisced. And the background music was Andrew and Janice’s two beautiful, precocious daughters being silly, telling jokes, and having fun getting to stay up late.

Sunday morning brunch was interesting, to say the least. The previous Friday, the fridge had died. We were fortunate to get a new one delivered on Sunday. Of course, this interfered with making french toast (by me) and a frittata (by Andrew), all the while trying to help the guys installing the fridge shut off the water. Thankfully, the mimosas helped us get through it.

Alas, it was time to head back home, which meant a car ride back to D.C.  But first, we had to make a stop at Pierce’s Pitt BBQ. This is some of the best BBQ in Southeast Virginia. Having lived in Alabama for almost ten years now, this BBQ was a welcomed return to Carolina style BBQ.  Plus you have to love a place that proudly proclaims its name as including “Pitt” with two T’s because . . . well, that’s the way it is.

Then it was back on the road for a quick drive to Washington, DC, and the flight home. Birthday weekend was over. I slept well on the plane. Good food and great memories helped.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Happy Birthday!

© 2013 Chris Terrell
Keeping It  Real in Colonial Williamsburg 
This past Sunday was my 44th birthday. Fortunately for me, the celebration turned out to be a weekend-long affair (more on that in the next blog post). It started with a wonderful dinner at The Fat Canary in Williamsburg, Virginia, continued with a feast with friends in which everyone contributed their own talents, and concluded with Sunday brunch while helping a couple of delivery guys replace the refrigerator that died just as we were making dinner the previous night. 

But there was also another birthday this past weekend. On Friday, March 7, this blog became a toddling one-year old! Consequently, I went back and looked at that first blog post on Thursday, March 7, 2013. This particular passage really struck me: "Not really sure where this blog will end up. In fact, I don't know even know where it will start." And though this blog is still a work in progress, I think it has held up pretty well (and if you think I’m being cocky about that, note that my editor, who is a tough critic, agrees with me). 

It is also interesting to see how this blog has evolved. This blog, along with my cooking, has become more confident; more developed; and more unique as I have thought about what is interesting to me and to my readers, who I thank for their feedback and valuable input (again, my editor agrees!) A good cook, like any good writer, must find his voice.  And more recipes, as I do hear that from my readership as well.

So, in honor of my blog's first birthday, here is my top ten list of my favorite blog posts and my favorite passage from each.

#10 Mastering the Art of French Cooking (March 9, 2013)

I wrote this one while sitting in a local coffee house on a cold March afternoon (on my birthday no less). I was leafing through Julia Child's cookbook, The Art of French Cooking, looking for something to cook for dinner for me and my two sons. It got me thinking...

So, I’m off to the store with my list that, with a little bit of wine and luck and Julia’s help, will be a great meal. If not, then I probably will not know it, nor will those who eat the meal with me. But then again, that’s the whole point.

#9 Food on the "Run" (April 10, 2013)

This one appeared shortly after my two boys and I had returned from Paris. Their first trip. This piece was along the same contemplative vein as #10, but with a bit of humor injected into it. I also poked some fun at my tendencies to "go native" when I travel. I started by noting that grabbing a baguette in America is not quite the same as grabbing one in France:

Well, the first thing is that I had to get in my car, rather than stroll down a tree-lined Parisian boulevard. Not quite as picturesque, but oh well. Next, I had to find a parking space whilst avoiding getting run over by a soccer mom on the phone in her 4,000 lb Yukon. 

And then it hit me:

One of the things I will miss about Paris is more than just the food. It is good, but we make good food here too. It is how they have made food, and have cooked it, and have eaten it as a deliberate part of their lives. 

#8 Cocktails Inspired by The Great Gatsby (May 4, 2013)

Ok, I must admit this one was probably the nerdiest blog post I ever did, though it is not immediately evident. A few days before I wrote this one, I listened to an interview on NPR with Mohsin Hamid, the author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Both of these novels are written in the second person, a very hard tense in which to write anything. So, I decided right then and there, you see, that my next blog post would be in the second person. Really, you don't believe me? Well read it. Why did I pick cocktails inspired by The Great Gatsby? It's my favorite novel, of course! And yes, writing in the second person is damn hard!

You get only three chapters in when you read about the first great party of the book—the one where Nick and us readers meet Gatsby for the first time. And throughout the book, we are introduced to champagne, gin, bourbon, and even absinthe. 

And don’t forget that one of the most dramatic scenes in the book occurs at the Plaza hotel where Daisy, Tom, Gatsby, 

Nick, and company have retired for some libations on a hot afternoon. 

Oh that’s right you didn’t read the book....

Well, anyway, this is the scene where Daisy delivers one of her best lines:

“Open the whiskey, Tom,” she ordered. “And I’ll make you a mint julep. Then you won’t seem so stupid to yourself….Look at the mint!”


#7 Some Memories Are Best Served From a Can (January 27, 2014)

I wrote this one after just finishing Luke Barr's book, Provence: 1970, which is about his great-aunt M.F.K. Fisher's time in France in December 1970 with some of the culinary greats of her time: Julia Child, James Beard, and Richard Olney. This book made me channel my own inner-M.F.K. and got me thinking about how my relationship with food has changed since the 1970s, as well as America's:

We shouldn’t let that food-snobbery blind us to what was good about how we ate back in the 70s. I loved my Mom’s spaghetti, even if it come from a jar. However, is spaghetti from the “hot bar” at the local Whole Foods such a big improvement? And yes, vegetables came from a can, but are those kale-carrot smoothies made in a Vitamix a step forward? And with all the recent talk about GMOs and food dyes, gluten-free this and that, I can't forget the Technicolor glories that one could create with FDA Blue #6. 

#6 Meatloaf: Score! (March 5, 2014)

Ok, maybe it was because I was getting close to my birthday again and getting a bit nostalgic, but I really like this one because it really takes me back home. And yes, you can go home again—at least on an empty stomach.

What goes well with meatloaf? Of course, any kind of starch will do. I like egg noodles with lots of black pepper and butter, but when I was a kid, the best, the absolute best, was mashed potatoes. Just imagine. It’s a cold winter’s night, and you’ve finished your homework early, so you can watch the latest episode of Mork & Mindy or Battlestar Galactica (the old one without the hot blond Cylon). You casually ask your mom “what’s for dinner?,” trying vainly to mask the trepidation in your voice—God, please don’t let it be liver and onions; I promise I’ll be nice to my little sister—and, after what seems like an interminable pause: meatloaf. 


#5 You Say “Tow MAH Toh” I Say “Tow MAY Toh"(February 25, 2014)

I try and stay away from politics on my blog. This was probably the closest thing I've gotten to a rant about food politics, though you have to love the fact that it began by comparing the grocery-store tomato with Scarlet Johansson and the heirloom tomato with Charlize Theron (when she went "ugly" in Monster). 

And while I don’t fault all these movements—they have their merits—they may be based on a false premise. Food has never, truly been “local” or truly “natural.” Even the most non-GMO wheat, corn, barley, or carrots ever grown are all derived from  variants genetically modified over many generations in the ancient world. (Granted, we can do it a lot faster now and maybe faster than our bodies can adapt to the changes.) And food and flavors, like people, have always migrated from place to place. As Faser & Rimas state: “[a]part from inside a patch or two of Amazonian bush or a forgotten New Guinean gully, there’s no such thing as a purely regional cuisine. Promiscuity in foodstuffs is part of human nature.” 

So, when food gets political, as it is wont to do these days, don’t forget that there never was a “golden age” where we were in harmony with food production. Of course, this is not to say we shouldn’t be mindful of the future—just don’t forget about the past. And don’t forget that “ugly” ain’t always better.

#4 Being in Love With Cooking is Never Having to Say You're Sorry (June 21, 2013)

This one came about after finishing Julia Child's memoir, My Life in France. The best piece of advice I got from that book is that one should never, ever, under any circumstance, short of food poisoning, apologize for how one's dish turns out.

My first attempt at hash browns is a perfect example of how bad things can get:

Everyone who loves to cook and cooks often will, at some point, make something that is simply wretched. Something just plain awful and which looks nothing like the one in that glossy photograph in the cookbook. For example, I recall one morning when I had this burning desire to make hash browns. After a cursory glance at a recipe, even before I had my morning coffee (big mistake!), I made something that only barely resembled hash browns—but if only hash browns were GREY!
* * *
So, we should all fight the urge to stress out about the meals we make and by all means, don’t apologize. It’s probably not as bad as you think. But, if it really is that bad, then the hell with it!. Just order a pizza!  

#3 Barbecue (August 13, 2013)

This post was one of several (like Shine On) that was a true expression of where I'm from, and if there is one 2nd year resolution for my blog, it is to write more about the cuisine of the South. In my opinion, it is the only true indigenous American cuisine. Here's what I had to say about BBQ, but more particularly about where it is served: 

Finally, a good indication of the quality of the barbecue served is the diversity of the clientele. Despite the South’s ugly past, barbecue joints and their cousins, the “meat and three,” are some of the most socially egalitarian eateries on the planet. You will find bankers and lawyers sitting next to construction workers and truck drivers. Whites will be sitting next to Blacks and Hispanics. They are all drawn to the same love: barbecue. 

#2 Ho! Ho! And A Bottle of Rum! (December 23, 2013)

This one is #2 because: (1) it's about the Holidays; one of my favorite times of the year: (2) baking, what got me into cooking in the first place; and (3) a rum cake so high in alcohol, that my HR department won't let me bring it to work anymore!

Anyway, for adults, making rum cake is fun as hell. The trick, of course, is to buy more rum than you actually need to make the cake. (I prefer Myers's.) And trickier still is to stay sober long enough to finish it! So, after many years of baking during the holidays, I may have found something to stand the test of time. This year, I put on the faux fire on the TV; some Christmas music from Frankie on the stereo; fired up the oven; opened a bottle of rum; and made a rum cake. And if no one eats it, I don’t care. The holidays are about traditions we keep, even if they go unwanted.  

Fruitcake anyone?

# 1 If You Want to Work in a Restaurant, Read this First (September 5, 2013)

This one is #1 simply because an old friend of mine who worked with me in a restaurant back in high school—who always wanted to work in the restaurant business and still does to this day—shared this with the staff at his restaurant. That was by far, the best compliment I've ever had about my blog.

And when I look back on those years, my memories of the kitchen are more dear. And I think I learned a lot more. I learned how to use a knife—I mean really use a knife; I learned how to have several things going at once; that wearing an apron and having plenty of kitchen towels on hand ain’t “girly;” being on time is important; and, finally, it is a damn hard job to get food on the table for several hundred people in a three-hour period. So, the next time your steak is not quite perfect, don’t forget how hard it is to work in the back of the house and don’t take it out on the front-of-the-house staff, because it wasn’t their fault.

Well, there you have it folks. The first annual Top Ten List of the year's previous posts. It was not easy, and I could have easily made it a Top Twenty List, but it's getting late here, and I have the next installment of Year Two to write.  Bon appétit!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Meatloaf: Score!

I must admit—I love meatloaf. No, not the early 80s arena rocker, but the other meatloaf. Yes, that much maligned all-American dish. How many times did we hear the refrain in all those family sitcoms from the 60s-80s in which one or more children is heard moaning: “Oh no! Not meatloaf…again!” But I think the hatred for meatloaf is urban legend; a falsehood; a conspiracy by the Broccoli Growers Association. Kids really like meatloaf. Why? Because it tastes damn good and it has ketchup in it; that’s why!

I grew up on meatloaf. And now that I’m a parent, I know why. It’s kid-friendly, inexpensive, and easy to make. It also makes great leftovers. Meatloaf sandwich anyone? (My mom packed meatloaf sandwiches in my Space 1999 lunchbox on more than one occasion.)

OK, perhaps I need to tamper my enthusiasm. I must admit that meatloaf does have an image problem. As Rebecca Orchant of The Huffington Post noted, “[t]he problem with meatloaf is that even if it tastes great, it rarely looks great.” So true, which explains why you will not see a photo of my meatloaf on this blog. (Photos of some really scary examples of meatloaf gone wrong can be found in Orchant’s article: meatloaf gone bad!

Yet no matter how it looks, nothing says comfort food like meatloaf. And like any great comfort food, there are a million-and-one ways to prepare it. Meatloaf can be as humble or as haughty as one’s imagination will make it. El Barrio, a local restaurant I just love and have written about in this blog makes a delicious chorizo meatloaf.  No matter what, for me there is no compromise when it comes to the ketchup. It must be Heinz!

What goes well with meatloaf? Of course, any kind of starch will do. I like egg noodles with lots of black pepper and butter, but when I was a kid, the best, the absolute best, was mashed potatoes. Just imagine. It’s a cold winter’s night, and you’ve finished your homework early, so you can watch the latest episode of Mork & Mindy or Battlestar Galactica (the old one without the hot blond Cylon). You casually ask your mom “what’s for dinner?,” trying vainly to mask the trepidation in your voice—God, please don’t let it be liver and onions; I promise I’ll be nice to my little sister—and, after what seems like an interminable pause: meatloaf. Score!

So the next time you think of meatloaf as a pedestrian, passé dish, reconsider; just try it.  It’s the ultimate great comfort food, and full of nostalgic memories, even if you don’t pack it in your vintage Partridge Family lunchbox these days.

Here’s the Insouciant Chef’s Meatloaf Recipe:

Classic Meatloaf


1 1/2 pound ground chuck
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup of bread crumbs (this keeps the meatloaf from being too greasy)
2/3 cup of ketchup (plus 2 tablespoons for topping)
2 extra large eggs (or three large eggs)
2/3 cup of chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
2 teaspoons of ancho chili powder
2 teaspoons of kosher salt
1 teaspoon of cracked black pepper


Knead all the ingredients in a large bowl with your hands  (don’t whimp out and use some kind of spoon). Take this glorious mass and put in a loaf pan (hence the name “meatloaf”). Take about 2 tablespoons of ketchup and spread evenly over the top. Put the loaf pan on a baking sheet and place in an oven at 350 degrees for about an hour or until the sides have pulled away from the pan or a thermometer in the center reads 160 degrees. Let it rest for 15 minutes; serve; enjoy.