On Ethiopian Food

Note:  This is actually a transported post from my other blog, which I wrote nearly two years ago, but I wanted to share it here nevertheless.  I — mercifully — don’t work for this boss or at this company anymore.

I conned a few of my coworkers into going to one of my favorite restaurants today, Blue Nile, with the promise of “It’s just regular food, like lentils and chicken, but cooked a little differently!”  Which is true, if a little misleading.  I left out the part about eating with your hands because I was stretching my luck as it was by dragging them out to the Richmond boonies amidst places with names like “Discoteca #14” and “La Belleza Salon — La Mas Bella!”

Blue Nile serves the most delicious Ethiopian food this side of Addis Ababa.  I am such a dork.  And yes, I’ve heard the joke about “How many ways can you cook a grain of rice?” or the one about “It’ll be a quick meal; we’ll order two empty plates and leave,” both courtesy of my manchild boss.  Quick visual of the boss, while we’re on topic:

He usually wears sleeves, but the accent and attitude is still Da Bears.

Ethiopian food is, as I said before, pretty much the same food we eat over here — chicken, beef, potatoes, lentils, greens, etc. — just prepared differently and with very distinct, unique spices and lots of clarified butter.  It’s also eaten without the use of utensils; you use pieces of injera bread to pick up your food.  Injera is a slightly sour-tasting flatbread made from teff flour, which is very nutrient-rich and does a good job of balancing out the spicy nature of most Ethiopian dishes.

Now that we have that out of the way, I’d just like to say that I’ve learned a lesson today.  Don’t force Ethiopian food on good friends.  It will only make them fear and resent you.  Also, when you’re driving back to work, sheepishly, let them listen to the radio and don’t force them to listen to your new Coheed and Cambria CD, which also — clearly — is not for everyone.

Within five minutes of returning to the office, everyone had heard about the fearsome meal.  I’m not going to say that Ethiopian food is an aquired taste, because I instantly liked it from the first time that spicy, rich, earthy doro wot first passed my lips three years ago.  I just think that maybe it isn’t for everyone.  As my friend Aurora pointed out, it’s hard to get past that first visceral reaction to food that looks as if it were a challenge on Fear Factor.

Okay, I admit that the injera does look a little like a Dr. Scholl’s insert.

All of that aside, I highly recommend Blue Nile as a jumping-off point for Ethiopian food.  The waitstaff are friendly and more than willing to explain their dishes to any newbies, the food is very reasonably priced (on other occasions, my friend Jacque and I have been known to split their enormous vegetarian platter between the two of us for $4.50 apiece; yeah, that’s right — $4.50 apiece!) and it’s all delicious.

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You Are What You Eat

I’m going to go off on a rant for a second here.

 

Store’s effort to sell fresh chicken raises concerns

 

The story above interests me for several reasons.  The people concerned about the possible slaughter of poultry in their neighborhood grocery store don’t identify themselves as vegetarians, animal lovers, or even crazy PETA activists.  They aren’t concerned that the method of killing the chickens is cruel (which it isn’t).  They simply seem to have a problem knowing where their poultry comes from.  I’ve run up against this dilemma quite a lot lately.

 

People want to eat, but they also want to know as little as possible about the food they’re consuming.  We have become so far removed from our food sources that it’s worrying to me in a large-scale Malthusian way.  If we were to lose all means of current food production tomorrow, how many of us would be able to sustain ourselves?  How many of us know which wild berries or mushrooms are edible?  Or how to grow a vegetable garden?  Or how to clean a fish?  Or how to slaughter a lamb for meat?  Or milk a cow?  Or simply even COOK?

 

I was reading a book by Anthony Bourdain a few weeks ago, called A Cooks Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines.  In one of the chapters, Bourdain recounts visiting a friend’s family farm in Portugal and participating in the slaughter of a pig for a big feast later that week. Continue reading You Are What You Eat

A Sunday Afternoon Curry

From the delicious shrimp curry I made for dinner last Sunday (try to ignore the completely unrelated cookbook page with masa boats in the background):

 

I served the curry over some brown rice with a little dollop of the mango marinade on top (didn’t have any chutney, so this worked quite well in a pinch).  If you’re going to make this recipe, which I highly recommend as an easy, delicious and very healthy meal, I would make the following substitutions:

  • Use light coconut milk instead of 2% milk; the coconut milk is a bit more in keeping with the other flavors of the dish and imparts a much richer, sweeter taste to it.
  • If you like a bit more crunch (which I do), make it a full cup of diced celery.
  • I used Maharajah curry from Penzey’s, which is sweet instead of hot.  It’s also chock-full of saffron (*swoon*) and it’s salt-free!  If you prefer a hotter curry, well…use a hotter curry powder.
  • I added a teaspoon of powdered ginger root to give the otherwise sweet curry more of a pop.  You may not like this much ginger, but it sure did make the curry hum.
  • Finally, because a little butter never hurt anybody, I added an extra tablespoon of butter while I was sauteeing the shallots, celery, apples and garlic.  But please, people, if you’re going to do this — use good butter!!!  If you’re not going to use good butter — real butter — and are instead going to poison your body with margarine or oleo, why are you even bothering to cook?  Just go to KFC, buy a family-sized bucket of wings and thighs and just get it over with.

Enjoy, folks.

Wine Tastes Like…High School

My sweet Richard ran to the grocery store tonight to grab some fresh veggies and a bottle of wine to go with the lovely fat porkchops I had planned for dinner.  In a hurry to beat the impending thunderstorm, he grabbed the first bottle he saw that looked appealing.  It turned out to be something called “White Merlot.”

I know, I know…but bear with me.

I’m generally not a fan of Merlot, or most red wines for that matter, because they’re too tannic for my poor stomach to take.  So I’m mostly stuck with lightly chilled Pinot Noirs and loads of white wine.  But this “White Merlot” — which is, really, a kissing cousin to White Zin — was fucking fantastic.  And before you heap your vituperation upon me, I know that it’s not really Merlot.  So just cool your heels, pups.

It tasted like a Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler, I’ll be the first to admit.  But it tasted like a Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler would’ve tasted to a 16-year-old sneaking her first taste of sweet, forbidden alcohol.  There was something familiar and comforting about its cloying sweetness and tangy raspberry undertones.  It was like smelling a perfume that you used to wear in high school, but haven’t encountered in twelve years; you wonder how you could have ever liked it to begin with — it’s too overt and it’s trying too hard — but there’s still that undercurrent of soft memories, first crushes and awkward homecoming dances that makes it irresistable to your jaded adult senses.

Just in case you couldn’t tell by my rambling prose, I am quite tanked on White Merlot right now.  It’s great.  I highly recommend it if you’re feeling sentimental.  Or just thirsty.  Either way…

Manny Howard, I Salute You

If you’ve got time, listen to this great little segment from All Things Considered about a man who decided to create his own farm in his tiny Brooklyn backyard, complete with chickens, ducks and rabbits.

Man Lives Off the Fat of His Brooklyn Land

I can’t wait for the book to come out!

On Grits

One of the things that I get asked fairly often is, “How can you eat grits?”  More often than not, it’s Richard, asking after I’ve snuggled into the couch with a bowl of cheese grits on a weekday night when I’ve had an intense craving for comfort food.  Other times, though, it’s people that are actually from Texas — people that I expect not only to enjoy but to celebrate grits — but who are either repulsed by grits or simply unfamiliar with them.  These people confuse me.

Grits were an integral part of my childhood and they remain a huge part of my cultural identity.  My mother would make grits for me on cold mornings before I headed off to the bus stop for school.  They will stick with a child’s stomach all day, making lunchtime a mere social gathering as food isn’t yet a necessity.  I remember her serving them to me on our old, wooden breakfast table with a huge pat of butter and some cream poured on top.  I would slowly swirl the grits until all of the ingredients were emulsified into the warm, creamy breakfast cereal and then gulp it down with relish.

Every church potluck included at least three different types of grits dishes:  regular grits, grits with sausage, grits with shrimp, grits with cheese, runny grits, thick grits, etc.  In fact, it’s a running joke that you can’t have a Church of Christ potluck without grits.

When we did a holiday buffet in middle school, I insisted on bringing cheese grits, much to the chagrin of my mostly foreign schoolmates.  No one except my English teacher, a down-home Southern belle, touched them.  But she and I ate nearly the entire dish.

And as an adult, when it’s my turn to bring breakfast for our breakfast club at The Day Job, I always bring grits.  I consider it my mission in life to turn as many people onto grits as possible.  I’m pleased to report that I’m doing much better these days than my failed attempt in middle school.

Why grits?  Why eat something that has the visual consistency of wallpaper glue (as Richard so lovingly puts it)?  Why do I have such strong feelings for what is, essentially, corn porridge? Continue reading On Grits

Bistro Provence

Location:  Bistro Provence
Date:  November 14, 2007
 

Robb Walsh, who is quite possibly my favorite food journalist and who we Houstonians can proudly call one of our own, has a timely review of Bistro Provence up at the Houston Press.  I say “timely,” because I just ate there for the third time two weeks ago.  I had mixed emotions about my last visit, so I’m glad to see that a professional food critic has vindicated my feelings about the place, whether he knows it or not.

We took my Day Job boss to Bistro Provence for her ten-year anniversary with my company.  Since there were six of us, I called the restaurant the day before our lunch to make sure that they could accomodate six people during their busy lunch rush.  The person who answered the phone sounded harried and uninterested at the same time, even though I made sure to call around 3:30 pm (hoping to catch them in between the lunch and dinner rushes).  He snootily told me that they don’t accept reservations, something of which I’m very well aware, and I told him so.  He responded with, “Okay, then you know we don’t take reservations.  Just show up and you’ll be seated.”  And then abruptly hung up the phone.

The next day, the group of us showed up at 12:30.  The parking lot was full, as always, but we were heartened by the fact that several tables outside on the popular patio area were empty.  Inside the restaurant, several other tables were empty as well, but they were all two-tops: nothing large enough to accomodate our group.  Every table seemed to be inhabited by — quite fittingly — actual French people enjoying their traditional long lunches with bottles of wine.  The boss loved the quaintness and “authenticity” of the place, and she happily agreed to wait for a table.

…this was a bad idea. Continue reading Bistro Provence