Stalking the Green Fairy: And Other Fantastic Adventures in Food and Drink

Overview

The Food Writer of the Year (Bon Appétit, 2003) Takes You on His Quest for the Ultimate Culinary Experiences . . .

"[This book reveals] . . . the positively Sherlockian discipline and brilliance of Mr. Villas on the scent of any culinary mystery he feels possessed to unravel."
—From the Foreword by Jeremiah Tower

Praise for James Villas:

"One of America’s greatest journalists."
—Emeril Lagasse

"There are not many writers around who are as much ...

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Overview

The Food Writer of the Year (Bon Appétit, 2003) Takes You on His Quest for the Ultimate Culinary Experiences . . .

"[This book reveals] . . . the positively Sherlockian discipline and brilliance of Mr. Villas on the scent of any culinary mystery he feels possessed to unravel."
—From the Foreword by Jeremiah Tower

Praise for James Villas:

"One of America’s greatest journalists."
—Emeril Lagasse

"There are not many writers around who are as much fun to read as James Villas. In his intensely personal style, he is elegant, quirky, opinionated, precise, and lyrical."
—Paula Wolfert

"James Villas is a man of stature. He travels widely, he has a keen eye, and a keener palate, he knows the arts and times, and has many interests, which makes him all the sharper when he writes about food."
—James Beard

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
With this lively collection of essays on topics ranging from the pleasures of commercial peanut butter to the wonders of home-cured gravlax, former Town and Country food and wine editor Villas is in top form, displaying the humor, intelligence and strong-mindedness that have made him the South's proud answer to Jeffrey Steingarten. Whether defending Southern regional dishes beloved by "rebs," such as grits, fruitcake and pimento cheese, or attacking the pretensions of foodie snobs and "rubes" who think raw tuna goes with everything, Villas refuses to be pushed around by fashion. Instead, he is a man on a mission to understand and celebrate what is authentic about his greatest epicurean passions, from canned tuna to vintage champagne rose. Though eloquent in his forays overseas as he seeks out the perfect salade ni oise or the illicit history of absinthe (the green fairy of the title), North Carolina-born Villas truly shines when he's on American soil. His odes to such American staples as the Club sandwich, chicken salad, meatloaf, iceberg lettuce and chowder are classic, combining personal anecdote, history and the author's own enticing recipes. The book loses a bit of steam in the final section, where Villas's contrarian take on everything from lemongrass to sharing food in restaurants descends into crankiness. But at his best, in the grip of an enthusiasm whether it's buying Chateau d'Yquem sauterne at auction or rhapsodizing about bulk shopping at Costco Villas will delight foodies as well as his loyal fans. (May) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Villas, a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author (Biscuit Bliss) and Bon App tit's 2003 Food Writer of the Year, is passionate about good food. He has gathered here a most splendid collection of his culinary musings. Writing with wry wit and easy grace, Villas ponders such humble foodstuffs as lettuce and sourdough bread, dishes up a paean to the unique culinary treats of the South (including grits), explores the intoxicating world of absinthe (the "green fairy") and other liquors, and finishes with his ideas on more practical matters such as the art of restaurant reservations. Fortunately for readers-who are sure to be ravenous after reading Villas's delicious prose-nearly all of his essays include a couple of tempting recipes. This rich, nourishing book is highly recommended for public libraries, especially those where other culinary anthologies such as Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking or Teresa Lust's Pass the Polenta are popular.-John Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780471273448
  • Publisher: Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/7/2004
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 9.88 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Meet the Author

JAMES VILLAS was the food and wine editor of Town & Country magazine for twenty-seven years. His work has appeared in Esquire, Food & Wine, Gourmet, Bon Appétit, the New York Times, and the Atlantic Monthly, among other publications. He’s the recipient of Bon Appétit’s Food Writer of the Year Award 2003 and a James Beard Award. Villas is the author of more than a dozen cookbooks and books on food, including Between Bites (Wiley), My Mother’s Southern Kitchen, and Crazy for Casseroles.

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Read an Excerpt

Stalking the Green Fairy

And Other Fantastic Adventures in Food and Drink
By James Villas

John Wiley & Sons

ISBN: 0-471-27344-9


Chapter One

SEXY SOUP

To my mind, there's a big difference between foods that are sensuous and those that are sexy. Foie gras, truffled eggs, sea urchins, Stilton cheese, and white peaches are indeed sensuous. Fresh morels, oysters, braised beef cheeks, roast grouse, and gumbo are definitely sexy. Some people like to go on about how sexy caviar, lobster, and smoked salmon are. I find nothing sexy about caviar, lobster, and smoked salmon. Sensuous, yes, but certainly not sexy. To be sexy, a food must awaken certain primal instincts, stimulate the id, and inspire a little recklessness. I could name a few dozen more candidates for the sexiest food on earth, but when all is said and done, none has the earthy allure, the wanton charm, and the saturnalian ability to seduce like the onion soups I've encountered in almost every corner of the Western world.

Like the bohemian lady she is, onion soup is neither trendy nor sophisticated, but she is irresistible. Dressed in her golden mantle, she is most often spotted in the dark, romantic Left Bank bistros of Paris, but wrapped in any number of other dazzling guises, she also haunts the tascas of Lisbon, the wood-paneled pubs of London and Copenhagen, the smoky stuben of Munich, and even the rutty cafés of Buenos Aires. In these places, the nocturnal courtesan isstill not only greatly appreciated but respected as the fickle creature she is.

Once was the time in America when she was considered exotic, but eventually she was judged to be superannuated and nudged from her natural milieu in deference to more glamorous but less exciting parvenus. The irony is that, even though we've yet to come up with an original version of the dish, Americans-our most acclaimed chefs included-have never really forsaken onion soup and love nothing more than to benefit from her favors in privacy. Perhaps if they only understood her multifaceted talents better, this beneficent, fun-loving lady of the night could spread even more comfort and joy about this country. And maybe if, for once, they followed her a bit more closely from one locale to the next, she might reclaim her former glory and teach us a few new tricks.

Naturally, each of the provinces in France swears it has developed the ultimate soupe à l'oignon. Burgundy's version is topped with a poached egg; Normandy's incorporates clarified fat and calvados; the tourin of Bordeaux and Périgord is enriched with egg yolks or tomato purée; the gratinée lyonnaise calls for garlic, herbs, and wine vinegar. But I protest. Even though each can be a delectable soup in its own right, none is the authentic, soulful gratinée topped with toasted croutons and bubbly with Gruyère cheese. That soup belongs to Paris-to cobblestone streets and smoke-filled boîtes, to informal gatherings with old friends, to late-night adventure and youthful romance. It is uncomplicated and incomparable.

Having said that, I can now report that I've enjoyed some onion soups that couldn't have been more unorthodox. In Spain, the soup is often enhanced with almonds; in Portugal, with raisins and sweet wines. In eastern European and Middle Eastern countries, cooks might add such indigenous ingredients as lentils, yogurt, mint, paprika, and any number of spices. In England, soup made with onions and Stilton cheese has become a classic; in Morocco, natives have long thickened their sturdy concoctions with minced chicken or pigeon and chickpeas; and in Denmark and Germany, they add dark beer, mustard, and all types of spices. When found in the United States, most onion soups are mere imitations of the simple French gratinée, but move south through the Caribbean and South America, and you find the dish transformed with coconut milk, chili peppers, and exotic local cheeses.

Whether you prefer gentle white onions or more robust yellow ones, a base of white wine or stock to one of water, a soup that's thick and rich to one that's thin and light, what really matters is that the onions you use be of the best possible quality (today's prized sweet Vidalias, Mauis, and Walla Wallas are just too tame for onion soup); that the stock be fresh, the wine first-rate, and the other ingredients never compromised. Above all, when you're adding secondary ingredients and seasonings, remember who the real star is, for nothing is more wretched than an onion soup in which the onions themselves don't shine.

Given proper attention and nurture, this is a soup that prefers to stand alone, although a platter of briny fresh oysters on the half shell with a zesty shallot-and-wine vinegar sauce makes a nice prelude, and a tart green salad, rugged loaf, and lusty red wine are ideal accompaniments. Afterward, depending on your degree of satiety, a selection of cold cuts or hot sausages would be appropriate, followed by nothing more sensual than poached fruit. Simplicity is the key to the onion soup ritual, and never forget that the coquette does not like unnecessary distractions.

Parisian Gratinée

SERVES 6 4 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 medium onions (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, minced

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

4 cups beef stock or broth

4 cups water

1 cup dry white wine

½ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled

Pinch of grated nutmeg

6 toasted rounds of French bread

1 pound Gruyère or Emmenthaler cheese, grated

In a large, heavy casserole, preferably enameled cast-iron, heat the butter and oil over moderate heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring often, 5 minutes to soften. Add the sugar and salt and pepper, reduce the heat to low, and continue cooking, stirring and scraping the vessel frequently with a wooden spoon, for 20 minutes, or till the onions are slightly browned.

Add the flour, stir, and cook 2 minutes longer. Add 2 cups of the stock, bring to a boil, and stir well. Add the remaining stock, the water, wine, thyme, and nutmeg. Return to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently 45 minutes, stirring frequently.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Divide the soup evenly among 6 ovenproof soup bowls and place a round of toasted bread in the center of each. Top each bowl with generous sprinklings of cheese, place the bowls on a heavy baking sheet, and bake 15 minutes, or till the cheese is bubbly and beginning to brown.

English Onion and Stilton Soup

SERVES 6

4 tablespoons butter

6 medium onions (about 1½ pounds), minced

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

5 cups chicken stock or broth

2 cups milk

½ pound Stilton cheese, crumbled

Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, add the onions, and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often.

Add the flour, stir, and cook 2 minutes. Add the stock, stir, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer 20 minutes longer or till the onions are very soft. Add the Stilton and stir about 5 minutes or till the cheese is melted. Add the pepper, stir, and ladle into soup bowls.

Danish Creamed Onion and Beer Soup

SERVES 6

6 tablespoons butter

8 medium onions (about 2 pounds), finely chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1½ cups chicken stock or broth

Two 12-ounce bottles dark beer or ale

1 cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon dry mustard

½ teaspoon ground nutmeg

5 large egg yolks

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Paprika

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook about 15 minutes, stirring often. Add the stock, stir, transfer the mixture in batches to a blender, puree, and return to the saucepan. Add the beer, half-and-half, mustard, and nutmeg, bring the mixture to a boil, simmer until reduced by about ½ cup, or till slightly thickened, and remove from the heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks lightly. Gradually whisk in about ¼ cup of the hot beer mixture till well blended, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the beer mixture. Cook the soup over low heat till it has the desired consistency, never allowing it to boil. Add the salt and pepper, stir, ladle into soup bowls, and sprinkle a little paprika on top of each portion.

Yugoslavian Dilled Onion Soup

SERVES 6 ¼ cup lard or vegetable shortening

6 medium onions (about 1½ pounds), thinly sliced

1 small celery rib, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

4 cups light beef stock or broth

3 cups tomato juice

½ teaspoon caraway seeds

1 cup plain yogurt

1½ tablespoons minced fresh dill

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large, heavy saucepan, melt the lard over low heat. Add the onions, celery, and garlic and cook about 15 minutes, stirring often.

Add the stock, tomato juice, and caraway seeds and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 30 minutes. Add the yogurt, dill, cayenne, and salt and pepper, stir well, and ladle into soup bowls.

Portuguese Onion Soup

SERVES 6

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

8 medium yellow onions (about 2 pounds), thinly sliced

6 whole cloves

1 teaspoon paprika

2 tablespoons golden seedless raisins or dried currants

5 cups rich beef broth

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

4 large egg yolks

¼ cup Madeira wine

In a large, heavy casserole, heat the butter and oil over moderate heat. Add the onions and cook about 20 minutes, stirring often, or till onions are softened and slightly browned. Add the cloves, paprika, raisins, and broth. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 hour. Uncover and simmer about ½ hour longer. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Mix a little of the hot broth into the eggs, return mixture to the casserole, and cook about 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the Madeira and stir well. Ladle the soup into soup plate or bowls.

South American Onion Soup

SERVES 6

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons peanut oil

6 medium onions (about 1½ pounds), thinly sliced

Pinch of ground allspice

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

6 cups chicken stock or broth

2 cups coconut milk

Small croutons

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat the butter and oil over moderate heat. Add the onions, allspice, and salt and pepper and cook 15 minutes, stirring often. Add the flour, stir, and cook 2 minutes. Add the stock, stir, bring to a simmer, and cook about 10 minutes or till the onions are very soft.

Add the coconut milk, stir, and simmer about 5 minutes longer. Taste for salt and pepper, ladle into soup bowls, and sprinkle each portion with a few croutons.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Stalking the Green Fairy by James Villas Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

FOREWORD, JEREMIAH TOWER.

INTRODUCTION: DECLARATIONS OF A HUNGRY SLEUTH.

PART ONE: REBEL SCOUT.

SOUTHERN PIG.

KING OF DIXIE STEWS.

THE SLIME FACTOR.

TRUE GRITS.

PC AND PROUD OF IT.

DEBUNKING FRUITCAKE.

A FEW CRUCIAL WORDS ABOUT ICE’ TEA.

PART TWO: STAR-SPANGLED ADVENTURES.

CHEAPSKATE SHOPPING.

PRIMAL STEAK.

THE MYSTERY OF LACTOBACILLUS SANFRANCISCO.

PUMPKIN POWER.

CHOWDER CHOW DOWN.

WILD IN THE WOODS.

CHICKEN SALAD CHIC.

PART THREE: COMFORT ME WITH MEAT LOAF.

MEAT LOAF MANIA.

GASTRONOMIC GOO.

ODE ON A CAN OF TUNA.

ICEBERG AHEAD.

JOIN THE CLUB.

REDRESSING THE SPUD.

PART FOUR: FOREIGN FORAGING.

THE GRATE ONE.

IN SILENCE, IN COOLNESS, AND IN SHADOW.

SEXY SOUP.

RIVIERA SALAD.

SAVORY PIE.

ITALY’S SWEET “PICK-ME-UP”.

SEVICHE AND OTHER COMPOSITIONS FROM THE SEA.

PART FIVE: POTABLE PURSUITS.

STALKING THE GREEN FAIRY.

DEAR LITTLE WATER.

BUBBLY I: PINK EXTRAVAGANCE.

BUBBLY II: GRAND SHAM-PAGNES.

LIQUID GOLD.

SUPER SUDS.

BYOB REVISITED.

PART SIX: DISPATCH FROM THE RESTAURANT ARENA.

DINING IN THE PLAYPEN.

THE FRUGAL GOURMAND.

RESPECT MOTHER NATURE.

WINE SAVVY.

THE RESERVATIONS WAR.

A SHAMELESS UPDATE ON GREASING PALMS.

HOGWASH.

THE QUESTION OF CIVILITY.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.

INDEX.

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