DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, February 17, 2017.
The Sole Brothers.

I must go into town because a trivial piece of bookkeeping that I forgot needs my attention. Mary Leigh is too busy to go to dinner with me. I wind up at Andrea’s. Reason: I made the mistake of telling him that I had some excellent Dover sole at that Brennan’s/Four Seasons restaurant dinner of a couple of weeks ago.

Chef Andrea.

Chef Andrea.

Andrea jumps right on that. He has Dover sole on his menu all the time, and he is happy to assemble the dish table side for me tonight.

Dover sole is a hallmark of first-class restaurants in Europe of twenty or more years. Andrea is a classically trained chef from that era, and considers it important to serve this kind of thing.

It’s very expensive, Dover sole. And the texture is a little soft for me (no matter who cooked it). But what Andrea does is credible, with the emulsified brown butter traditionally draped over the fish.

Other conversations get started at my table. Merlin Chauvin–a genuine Thai Cajun–is running the dining room at Andrea’s these days. He had worked a long time in his family’s restaurant, La Thai Cuisine on Prytania Street. But he wants to run his own place. He has clearly thought very deeply about the important points of operating a restaurant, and we have a long conversation about that.

I hang out at Andrea’s too long. The musician in the Capri Blu bar is Bobby Ohler, who plays the piano and blows a horn and sings, too. He has played for a long time with Ronnie Kole, who has high standards of musicianship (even though he has allow me to sing with him now and then). Bobby backs me up on “Misty,” then I hit the road. It’s supposed to rain again tonight.

500BestSquareSpinach Strawberry Salad @ Marigny Brasserie

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Chef Scott Varnedoe–one of the first chefs at Marigny Brasserie–developed this great salad of fresh spinach, candied pecans, goat cheese, and a sharp strawberry vinaigrette. He even won a big prize with it in a competition. It remained on the menu at the Marigny Brasserie through a relocation, several drastic kitchen changes, the coming and going of numerous chefs, and many total menu remakes. It remains one of the best things to eat in this swinging center of the Marigny food-and-musc matrix, with many variations–all good.

Strawberry Salad @ Marigny Brasserie.

Marigny Brasserie. Marigny: 640 Frenchmen. 504-945-4472.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Roasted Chicken Aline

If I had to live on just one entree the rest of my life, this would be it. I love a good roasted chicken, like the one my mother (Aline) used to make every Sunday when I was a kid. After this chicken comes out of the oven, you can add almost any sauce or garnish to it you like, but it’s very good as is. Buy a free-range chicken or the smallest chicken you can find at the store.

Feel free to vary the array of fruits, vegetables, and herbs I like to stuff inside the cavity before putting the chicken into the oven.

Fresh roasted chicken with rosemary.

Fresh roasted chicken with rosemary.

  • 1 whole chicken, 3 to 3 1/2 lbs.
  • Stems of 1 bunch fennel, cut up, or tops of 1 bunch celery
  • Stems of 1 bunch parsley
  • 1/2 orange, sliced
  • 1 good-sized branch rosemary
  • 10 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Salt
  • Creole seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. dried tarragon

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. If you have a convection oven, set it to convect.

1. Rinse the chicken and remove the giblets. Stuff the cavity with as much of the fennel, celery, parsley stems, orange, rosemary, and garlic as will fit inside the cavity. Season the outside of the chicken with salt and Creole seasoning or pepper.

2. Put the chicken breast side down on a broiler pan with a rack and set it in the center of the oven. Reduce the oven to 350 degrees.

3. Roast for one hour, and check the temperature of the chicken with a meat thermometer. When it reaches about 170 degrees, turn the oven up to 450 degrees, and put very small slivers of butter all over the outside of the chicken.

4. Roast another five to ten minutes. Check to make sure the juices run clear from the thigh. Remove from oven and let stand for fifteen minutes before serving.

Serves two to four.

AlmanacSquare February 22, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–6

St. Patrick’s Day–24

St. Joseph’s Day–26

Today’s Flavor

Margarita2This is National Margarita Day. The essential ingredients are tequila, lime juice, a splash of triple-sec, Cointreau, or some other orange-flavored liqueur, and ice. The rim of the glass is coated with salt, but Lu Brow at the Swizzle Stick Lounge came up with an improvement: only dip half the rim of the glass in the salt. That way you can take it or leave it.

Nice coincidence: today is also Pan-American Ceviche Day. Ceviche is a cold appetizer of fish (or sometimes shellfish) marinated in lemon or lime juice, with a little salt and sometimes chile peppers and other savory, crisp vegetables. The fish starts out raw, but the acidity of the citrus juice changes the proteins in the fish such that it comes out with the texture and flavor of cooked fish–even though it’s still raw.

Ceviche was created during the Spanish colonial days in Peru. From there it spread to almost all Latin American countries, each of which added its own flavors and ingredients. So many variations on ceviche can be made that restaurants sometimes serve several kind of ceviche, with different seafoods and marinades. It’s a delicious appetizer, the lightness and the acidic marinade giving a lift to the palate as the flavors satisfy at the same time.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Tartar Creek flows two miles down the mountains northeast of the wine country of Mendocino County in California. It begins at a spring at 2800 feet, and rolls down a thousand feet before ending in Pepperwood Gulch Creek. You can drive right to the confluence if you have an ATV and don’t mind climbing up a dead-end road called Loser Lane. Or you can turn around and drive six miles to Willits, there to have lunch at the Loose Caboose Cafe.

Edible Dictionary

SpudnutBakeriesspudnut, n.–A fried doughnut made from flour and dehydrated potatoes. The name was coined in 1940 by Al and Bob Pelton in Salt Lake City, who launched a chain of shops selling the doughnuts. They became popular quickly, peaked in the 1960s, then faded. There was at least one of them in the Broadmoor section of New Orleans. (It also served roast beef poor boys.) The Spudnut franchiser went out of business in the 1980s, but many Spudnut shops kept going on their own. Spudnuts have a following, but the flavor difference between them and standard doughnuts is subtle at most.

Annals Of The Lunch Counter

Frank W. Woolworth opened his first store in Utica, New York today in 1879. Woolworth’s would become the first chain store of any kind. Despite that, it was treated by locals as part of the fabric of New Orleans. At one time there were at least eight Woolworth’s stores around town. A shopping trip to Canal Street would not have been complete without a stop in one of the two big Woolworth’s for a grilled cheese sandwich, crinkle-cut fries, and a cherry Coke.

Mother’s Day

AlineFitzmorrisThis is the anniversary of the birth of Aline Gremillion Fitzmorris, my mother and the source of my taste for Creole cooking. She was born in 1912 near Cottonport in rural Avoyelles Parish. Her enormous family (she was the fourth-youngest of twelve children) moved to New Orleans in 1918. She grew up in the French Quarter, and was valedictorian of St. Louis Cathedral School in 1927. (That’s her graduation picture at right.) Everybody who knew her remembers the goodness of her cooking. I still think of her versions of chicken gumbo and seafood gumbo, red beans and rice, bread pudding, lost bread, and baked chicken as definitive. My favorite description of her talents came from one of her brothers: “Aline can make a meal from nothing.”

Deft Dining Rule #221:

If you’re dining in an Italian restaurant and you learn that a dish is named for the chef’s or (even better) the owner’s mother, get that dish.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you and your siblings haven’t spent a few afternoons with your mother learning how to cook her best dishes–measuring and timing everything so anyone can use the recipes–you are throwing away her legacy. Shame!

Edible Dictionary

tapioca, n.–A starch from the root of the cassava plant, made into spheres and used mostly as the basis for sweet dishes and beverages. The spheres are called “pearls,” and they range in size from small grain to the size of marbles. The most famous use for tapioca is as a pudding, but in recent times the bigger pearls have become more familiar because of their use in Vietnamese fruit drinks called “bubble teas.” (The tapioca pearls are the bubbles.) Cassava plants are native to Brazil, and look from a distance like tall schefflera plants. Their starchy roots are known as manioc in Africa and yuca in Central America. In both places, cassava is a staple food, the third most eaten source of carbohydrates in the world human diet.

Annals Of Snacking

An old but probably apocryphal story has it that today in 1630, Native Americans introduced British settlers to popcorn. They popped a bunch of it, then sat down at watched The Birth Of A Nation. No. There was nothing new about popcorn. It had been grown and popped for many centuries.

Music To Eat Gumbo By

Ernie K-Doe (real name Kador) was born today in 1936. His famous song was Mother-In-Law, but he played all kinds of New Orleans music for decades. The cooking of this mother-in-law is not mentioned, but it’s a long-running topic of controversy. K-Doe died in 2001.

Food Namesakes

Kate Sage, Australian Olympic hockey player, was born today in 1973. . . Samuel Whitbread, who founded the British ale brewery named for him, was born today in 1937. . . Actor Dwight Frye was born today in 1899. . . Isaac L. Rice, a New York businessman and philanthropist, was born today in 1850. . . Robert Weiner Jr., professional polo player, was born today in 1982. . . Bill Baker, an early pro basketball player, was slam-dunked today in 1911.

Words To Eat By

“Shellfish are the prime cause of the decline of morals and the adaptation of an extravagant lifestyle. Indeed of the whole realm of nature the sea is in many ways the most harmful to the stomach, with its great variety of dishes and tasty fish.”–Pliny the Elder.

Words To Drink By

“And the sooner the tea’s out of the way, the sooner we can get out the gin, eh?”–Henry Reed, English writer, born today in 1914.

FoodFunniesSquare

You Need The Entire Set.

Here’s one of the very few times when buying the entire knife set–including the wooden storage block–makes good sense. And don’t forget the sharpening steel.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, February 13, 2016.
A Non-Controversial Italian Salad.

I meet up for lunch with Mary Ann at Pontchartrain Po-Boys. I have the salad which is formerly (but now very seldom) known as the “wop salad,” then as the “Italian salad,” and now increasingly more often the “guappo” salad. The last one is where the first one came from. A “guappo” is a brash young Italian man, dressed up a little too well, who is always collecting new girl friends, while at the same time relying on his mother for almost everything.

Chef Duke.

Chef Duke.

More important than the nomenclature is the salad’s contents: green salad with tomatoes, the olive salad you’d find on a muffuletta, and often (but not always) with some of the meats and cheeses you find in a muffuletta. Pontchartrain Po-Boys has a large version of this, along with a very large and an even bigger. The last two usually get divided by a table of people. I stuff myself with the smallest one.

I already love my new schedule at the radio station. I have been thinking for some time that the three-hour show was too long, especially on a station that has signal issues, such as 1350 always had. But now we take advantage of one of the most misunderstood aspects of radio: the audience differs almost totally from hour to hour. So we now have a two-hour show that’s like it always has been, followed by those two hours over again. Very few people listen to the whole four hours that generates, but more total listeners wind up hearing most of it. And the sponsors get a better push.

When I finish today at five, I take a walk, a shower, and a nap. But no supper. Still full from the guappo salad. I arrive early for NPAS rehearsal, where Carol and I run through out rendition of “I Won’t Dance.” I think we have it down. But every rehearsal makes it better.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017.
Valentine’s Day @ Café Giovanni.

I go to town today because I need to record a few more promos for the new radio show schedule. Every time I do this, I find that there are more aspects of the program that I don’t yet have in my head. For example, I am so accustomed to coming out of a commercial with a certain word formula that I find myself lost now that the formula has changed. What is it, anyway? “This is the Food Show,” I recite from rote. But then. . . I find myself with nothing more. I can’t say it’s 3WL, or 1350, or anything else from the opld days. My producer is exasperated with my failure. “105.3!” He shouts. “WWL-FM HD2, Kenner New Orleans!” He goes on. How could I not know this by heart? Where is the radio geek in my brain? The one that remembers very well inanities like “This is CBS, The Columbia Broadcasting System”?

It’s Valentine’s Day. Mary Ann, who usually insists that the holiday be celebrated with all its trappings, seems lately to be less involved in any activity that requires that she likes me.

Mary Leigh gets to work on finding reservations. The first half-dozen or so are booked completely. I suggest that we go to Café Giovanni, where Chef Duke will certainly have a table for us. It’s busy there, but not overwhelmingly so.

When we’re seated, ML lays down her main rule for the evening. I am not permitted to sing next to the Marys’ table. The opera singers are here, and both of them have already asked whether I will be singing tonight. Fortunately for the girls, the room is so full of people that it would take a more powerful voice than I have to be heard across the room. Also, the lady playing the piano doesn’t know my songs. (That’s not a criticism of her. Her repertoire is pretty big. But nobody knows everything.)

I’m the only one who doesn’t order the special Valentine’s Day dinner. Mary Leigh has fettuccine alfredo–period. Mary Ann has an assortment of side dishes. I start with the seafood martini: crab, shrimp, fish, crawfish, etc., served cold in a martini glass. This has always been delicious here. Then a demitasse of crawfish and corn bisque as kind of a late amuse bouche. MA and I agree that this is as fine a creamy bisque that we’ve had in recent memory.

My entree is something new to me: a thick pork tenderloin with a sharp, somewhat fruity stack of the meat in question, and a sauce of raspberries and chipotle peppers. Too much to finish, but nothing unusual about that in this place.

Duke sends us each half-glasses of a wine he’s hot on right now. The grapes come from Chile, but the wine is made in the Napa Valley by Caymus, a major producer of top-end wines. The sample tells me that the wine is youthful both in terms of the age of the grapevines and of the wines made from them.

But whenever I’m even near Caymus wines, I recall a magnificent dinner I had in the winery during the Napa Wine auction in the 1990s. We had eight vintages of Caymus Special Selection Cabernet–a wine that often tops lists of the best wines in the world. It was a black tie event–a rarity in Napa. After the dinner, major cigars were passed around to the diners that wanted them. This included a fair number of women. What an evening that was.

Cafe Giovanni. French Quarter: 117 Decatur. 504-529-2154.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Cheese And Herb Biscuits

We had a bunch of people over for dinner some years ago. One of my goals was to make bread from scratch, so we didn’t buy any bread. I guess it was predictable, but I ran out of time and didn’t manage to get to the home-made bread. I filled the gap with this variation on our family’s favorite buttermilk biscuits. Mary Ann showed me a recipe for something along those lines in Bon Appetit, and I borrowed a couple of ingredients from there. They came out of the oven savory, spicy, and a good match for turkey, ham, or fried chicken. They may be a bit too assertive to be eaten at breakfast. They’re best right out of the oven, but they’re good at room temperature, too.

You can underbake these a little and freeze them. When you’re ready to serve, microwave them for about thirty seconds and then pop them into a 400-degree oven (a toaster oven works fine) until browned completely. They will taste as if they’d just come out of the oven!

Homemade-Biscuits

  • 4 cups self-rising flour
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 2 cups finely shredded cheddar cheese
  • 2 green onions, tender green parts only, finely snipped
  • 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 heaping tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp. sage
  • 2 cups milk

Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

1. Measure flour into a large bowl. Add the butter and stir with a wire whisk until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. It’s okay for there to be a few small lumps. Then stir in the cheddar cheese, herbs, and Creole seasoning to evenly distribute.

2. Blend in the milk with light strokes of a kitchen fork until the dough leaves the side of the bowl. Add a little more milk if necessary to work all the dry flour at the bottom into a sticky, thoroughly damp dough.

3. Lightly grease a baking pan. Spoon out the dough with a soup spoon into balls about two inches in diameter. Dip your fingers in water and press the balls down only slightly (high biscuits come out better than flattened ones), and shape the dough up a bit if necessary.

4. Bake 14 minutes in the preheated 475-degree oven. They’re ready when the little peaks on the biscuits begin to brown. Don’t look for a dark overall brown; that indicates overbaking.

Makes about twenty little biscuits.

500BestSquareCannelloni With Shrimp, Tasso, And Cream @ Two Tonys

For most of its history Two Tonys (also spelled “II Tonys) has been an elementary New Orleans Italian trattoria and West End-style seafood house. Construction of the new Bucktown pumping station forced the restaurant to move to the former location of the West End Cafe. That larger restaurant moved Tony Jr. (his father, the first Tony, had passed away) to expand his menu. The specials that grew from that effort have been particularly good. This is one of them: cannelloni stuffed with shrimp and tasso, with both a cream sauce and a light roux-based filling. That combination was a big deal in the 1980s. First time I’ve run into it in a while. Good stuff.

TwoTonys-ShrimpTassoCannelloni

Two Tonys. West End & Bucktown: 8536 Pontchartrain Blvd. 504-282-0801.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare

February 20, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–8

St. Patrick’s Day–26

St. Joseph’s Day–28

Today’s Flavor

CherryPieMany websites claim that today is National Cherry Pie Day. The problem with this is that cherries are totally out of season right now, and we must make any cherry pie with canned cherries, resulting in a cloyingly oversweet dessert. Remember when you could get a cherry pie at McDonald’s and places of that ilk? Just apple now, I think (although I’m behind on my research on fast-food fried pies.)

Great Moments In Grocery Shopping

The square-bottomed paper bag was invented by Luther Crowell of Cape Cod, who spent his spare time folding paper and attempting to make things out of it. He got a patent for his flat-bottomed bag in 1867. It would remain universal in grocery stores until the plastic sack took over.

Beer Through History

BeerGlasses-3The Yuengling Brewery opened in Pottsville, Pennsylvania on this date in 1829. It’s still in business, the oldest American brewery that can make that claim. I guess that makes them a bit older than Dixie. It continued operation during Prohibition by making a nasty drink called “near-beer.” Here’s some background on the outfit, if you’re interested.

Inventions For Better Eating

A toothpick manufacturing machine was invented on this day in 1872, by two guys, J.P. Cooley and Silas Noble. One of them did the round toothpicks and the other flat. The best toothpicks are made of alder wood. Ask the next very expensive restaurant you dine in whether they have alder toothpicks. Then tell them that they should. Let’s see how long this takes to make it into the national food magazines. Most of the toothpicks made in America, by the way, are made in Maine.

Annals Of Wine Marketing

The first wine auction that we know about took place in London on this date in 1673. Amazingly, a bottle of Phelps Insignia went for almost $2,000. No, it didn’t. The wine being auctioned was entirely in barrels, and was sold as a bulk commodity.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Roosterville, Georgia is five miles from the Alabama state line, sixty-six miles west southwest of Atlanta. It does appear to harbor roosters in a large chicken farm nearby. Roosterville is just a busy junction of country roads, so small that it was removed from the official Georgia map in 2006. But a few houses and a general store are there, as well as a bunch of beehives and sheds for milking cows. The nearest place to eat is Captain Billy’s Fish House a mile and a half away. For chicken (although probably not coq au vin), it’s the Big Chic, six miles away in Carrollton.

Edible Dictionary

arancini, Italian, n., pl.–A Sicilian appetizer made by rolling rice moistened with a meaty red sauce into balls an inch or two in diameter. They’re coated with bread crumbs and fried. The word means “little oranges,” an apt name. Arancini usually have a lump of cheese in the center. This gives rise to their alternate name, suppli al telefono–“telephone wires,” which is what the festoons of cheese look like when you take a bite and they stretch out from the arancino to your teeth. Sometimes meat or peas or other fillings are in the center, along with the cheese. Arancini are found everywhere in Sicily, and are slowly becoming popular in this country.

Dining In The Movies

Today is the birthday of accomplished film star Sidney Poitier. Among his best-known movies was Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? in 1967. It’s about the problems the older generation had when their children started hanging around with people with other racial backgrounds.

Words To Eat By

“The majority of those who put together collections of verses or epigrams resemble those who eat cherries or oysters: they begin by choosing the best and end by eating everything.”–Nicolas Chamfort, an eminently quotable author from the mid-1700s.

Words To Drink By

“What’s drinking? A mere pause from thinking!”–Lord Byron.

FoodFunniesSquare

This Comic Is Just Half Funny.

This has happened more than a few times in Louisiana, as Wildlife and Fisheries agents arrested chefs and restaurateurs whose stock of fish came from unauthorized sources.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, February 11, 2017.
We Are Sneaked Into A Full Restaurant.

None of our family festivities ever fit into a single day. Today is the actual wedding anniversary for MA and me. And although we had two substantial meals in celebration, we are not finished.

As we seek out a good restaurant for our real anniversary, Mary Ann first asks for my thoughts. This is a waste of time, since none of my ideas will be accepted. Worse than that, we wind up with no reservations and little time to search for one. It’s always complicated by our anniversary’s proximity to Valentine’s Day.

And so it is that we patrol old Covington in the early evening for empty spaces. We already know that Lola–a bistro we like but dine in less than often–is closed for the weekend, because chef-owner Keith Frentz is down with the flu. I found that out when we tried to get in for brunch earlier in the day.

We find space at Dakota, and we had all but started the car when we saw Torre Solazzo–co-owner with her husband David of Del Porto, the best Italian restaurant in the New Orleans area–following as we cross the street. We had just been told by a hostess that Del Porto was fully booked until nine o’clock. Torre tell us that, like most restaurateurs, they save a table or two for regular customers who turn up at the last minute. Turning up at the last minute is a hallmark of our family. It helps that I mention it is our anniversary.

The dinner is swell, as it always is. I begin with crudo of black drum, with an exciting mix of citrus, herbs, and crunchy stuff. Mary Ann has a dish of the white bean dip they make here so well. It’s almost hummus, but with a much different flavor. Mary Leigh indulges in the pear salad. A beet salad lands in front of MA, preceding a platter of short ribs of beef that the Marys split. They control most of the taste for short ribs in our house. The slowly-lowly-cooked meat rarely presses my button. It seems like roast beef poor-boy meat and gravy. I love that, but in its place.

My main is a study of duck leg confit. It’s turned out with potatoes and other woodsy elements, and is perfect for the semi-cool weather lately. The waiter said (I think) that this is a new interpretation of duck leg, and indeed I can’t remember having had that here. But it worked for me, and fits right into the Tuscan theme Del Porto pursues here for the most part.

Dessert takes a new stab at king cake. I don’t quite get the concept, but it took us out on a playful note. I am happy with this ends of our anniversary feasting.

Del Porto. Covington: 501 E Boston St. 985-875-1006.
Sunday, February 12, 2017.
My Days Keep Growing.

A big card of activity claims ownership of the entire day. It begins with the usual Sunday singing. I come right home after Mass, then head right out with Mary Ann as my chauffeur. She drops me off at the radio station, where I begin a new on-air series: Tom On Sunday. I’m now on a seven-day-a-week schedule. It sounds like too much, but it’s a fair swap. My weekday shows will shrink from three hours–which, I’ve decided, is an hour too long–to two. The weekend shows on the powerhouse WWL Radio are much easier for me. So I go from an eighteen-hour on-air week to sixteen. During a lot of the year, the weekend shows are pre-empted by sports, so it becomes an even better deal.

After the new Sunday show, I go to my office, roll out a pad onto the floor, and take an hour-long nap. Refreshed–and I needed to be, as will be seen shortly–I catch up on some of my e-mail and other jobs. After an hour of that, I walk the ten blocks to the Court of Two Sisters, where at seven I will give a talk about Topic A.

The organization I address is a national association of forensic dentists. Those are the guys who identify corpses by comparing the deceased’s teeth with dental records. It’s safe to say that this is the most unusual group ever to hear my Soup-Du-Jour Trilogy.
They prove to be convivial guys (almost all forty of them are men). They tell no tales about oddities encountered over the years in performing their jobs. Most of them are fans of New Orleans, and want to know what the food scene is around here these days. Can do.

We have dinner before my talk. The Court of Two Sisters has been generally better than it was ten or twenty years ago, but this dinner was not strong evidence of that. Might have been a budget issue.

Mary Ann, having spent the day with her siblings and friends, collects me in front of Brennan’s at around nine. She has parked in what looks like another of her magical parking spaces in the French Quarter. But the man in charge of that determination tells us that this was not a legal spot, and that he was about to put her car (the 380,000-mile Honda, thank goodness, and not the BMW) on the hook. But the officer gives her a reprieve. The Parking Witch does it again!

500BestSquareDouble-Cooked Duck @ Zea

DishStars-4
The best dish at Zea could be served in even the best restaurants in town. A half-duck gets cooked most of the way by some slow method (rotisserie would be my guess, since they have that equipment). Then they throw it into hot oil to flash-crisp the skin. The sauce is a sweet-heat Asian-tinged concoction. Since the seasoning on the duck has a sort of Thai flavor to begin with, it works nicely. The duck itself is moist inside and crisp at the skin. Best of all, it will appeal to those other than big fans of duck. Who will also be very happy with the dish.

Zea-Duck-2

Zea. Harahan: 1655 Hickory Ave. 504-738-0799.

||Kenner: 1325 West Esplanade Ave. 504-468-7733. ||Metairie: 4450 Veterans Blvd (Clearview Mall). 504-780-9090. ||Covington: 110 Lake Dr. 985-327-0520. ||Harvey: 1121 Manhattan Blvd. 504-361-8293. ||Slidell: 173 Northshore Blvd. 985-273-0500.This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Game Birds Mediterranean Style

This recipe is inspired by something I found in Madeleine Kamman’s excellent In Madeleine’s Kitchen cookbook. I’ve made it not only with Cornish hens but with quail, and someday I’m going to try it with squab. This is the sort of dish I’m always thinking about during the cooler months. Or when an old-style, French-thinking chef is at my disposal.

Wintertime Quail

  • 4 Cornish hens (or 12 quails)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. steak sauce (I prefer Tabasco Caribbean style or Pickapeppa)
  • 1 3/4 cups rich chicken stock
  • 18 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed open
  • 1/2 tsp. honey
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • Zest of 1 orange and 1/2 lemon
  • 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped leaves only
  • 1 Tbs. Vietnamese or Thai fish sauce
  • 12 teeny cherry tomatoes

1. Season the birds inside and out with salt and pepper.

2. Heat the olive oil in a big saucepan for which you have a cover, over medium-high heat. Saute the crushed garlic cloves until they brown around the edges, then remove and reserve them.

3. Add the birds to the pan and brown them all over. Remove the birds. Pour out the oil and wipe the pan clean with a wad of paper towels. Replace the birds in the pan.

4. In a second saucepan, add the steak sauce to the chicken stock and bring it to a light boil. Pour it over the birds in the pan, and return to medium heat. Add all but two of the garlic cloves, plus the honey, thyme, and a little salt and pepper. Bring it up to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cover the pan and cook for about 40 minutes for the quail, about 1 hour and 10 minutes for the Cornish hens.

5. Place the birds in a serving dish deep enough to contain all the sauce. Remove all the other ingredients (except the thyme, which you discard) to a blender or food processor and puree. Add 1/4 cup of water if needed to help things along.

6. Strain the sauce into a clean pan and bring to a boil. Add the parsley, the zest, and the fish sauce. Chop the two cloves of garlic left over from the first step and add them. Cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes. When they soften, serve the sauce over the birds.

Serves four to eight.

AlmanacSquare February 17, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–11

St. Patrick’s Day–29

St. Joseph’s Day–31

Food Calendar

CafeAuLaitIt is National Cafe Au Lait Day. Every day is Cafe au Lait Day for me. In fact, I’m drinking the stuff as I write this. Can’t imagine a morning without it.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Bread Tray Hill is a community of about fifty people, fifty-six miles southeast of Montgomery, Alabama. It’s an intersection of two rural highways through a mostly wooded area. The namesake hill is bald at its 500-foot top, and from the south does look like its name. This is a farming and orchard area. The nearest restaurants are seven miles north in Union Springs. Among them is the inviting Pigg’s.

Edible Dictionary

cafe brulot, [kaf-ay broo-LOW], French, n.–A hybrid of coffee and after-dinner drink, cafe brulot is lemon peel, cloves, and cinnamon flamed in brandy, with dark, strong coffee added as the flames die down. It’s at least as much about the show as the flavor. While the spice-and-brandy mixture is burning, the waiter might intentionally pour the stuff on the tablecloth, where the blue flames burn harmlessly but dramatically. A special rig evolved for cafe brulot, involving a brass panholder held up by well-dressed demons, and thin, tall cups for serving the potion.

Invented at Antoine’s in the late 1800s, cafe brulot has become a universal end-of-dinner item in most of the traditional grand New Orleans restaurants, and has spread well beyond its boundaries. The best version now is at Arnaud’s, where they stud an orange with cloves, then cut the skin away from the fruit in a spiral. The waiter pours the flaming brandy down the spiral, which not only is quite a show but brings the oils in the peel into play, adding flavor as well as making the room fragrant.

Deft Dining Rule #219:

The only way an ethnic restaurant can be truly authentic is to be located in the place where its cuisine came from.

Our Great Restaurateurs

This is the birthday, in 1957, of Jacques Soulas. He and Jerry Edgar founded (and still own) Cafe Degas in 1980. It was one of the first casual French restaurants in New Orleans, and even after all these years it remains true to the style of the small, inexpensive French bistro. (The only thing missing is surly waiters.)

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

To make the most spectacular coffee of your life, next time you have about a dozen eggshells, crunch them up with the egg still sticking to them. Put the eggs into a coffee filter in your coffeemaker with two or three times as much coffee as you normally use. Brew a full pot. The egg whites pull all the bitter particles out, and the calcium in the shells neutralizes the acids and gets more extraction from the grounds. It’s a lot of work, but the result is amazing.

Food Inventions

Sardines-CannedJulius Wolff of Maine became the first man to can sardines on this date in 1876. The kind of sardines you find in cans are generic fish and of more interest to cats than to humans. However, real sardines–named for the island of Sardinia–are a treat we sometimes see in New Orleans, particularly around St. Joseph’s Day. They’re six to eight inches long, pan-sauteed or broiled, and served whole. Their assertive flavor will not please those who complain about fish tasting “fishy.” For those with more adventuresome palates, they’re a delight.

Food In The Comics

HeroSandwichThis is the eighty-first anniversary of the marriage of Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead, in the comic strip named for her. Blondie’s maiden name was Boopadoop. Dagwood was a wealthy playboy whose choice of a bride (not a bad one, if he was looking for a lady with a great figure) caused his father to disinherit him. Dagwood went on to become an iconic chowhound. The overloaded sandwich (regardless of its contents, as long as there’s plenty of different stuff, and sardines) is named for him.

Food Through History

On this date in 1454, Philip The Good, Duke of Burgundy, and son of John the Fearless (don’t you wish we still used such epithets?), held a magnificent feast in Dijon. At its end, he took the Vow of the Pheasant, and swore that he would go on a Crusade to fight the Turks. Big words at that time, because the Turks had just taken Constantinople. He must have been drunk on Pinot Noir. He never did undertake the Crusade.

Today is the ancient Roman festival Fornicalia, which was not what it sounds like. It celebrated the hearth, wheat, bread, and baking.

Food Entrepreneurs

William Cadbury, who founded the chocolate manufacturing concern that still bears his name, was born today in 1867.

Food Namesakes

Actor Noah Beery was brewed up today in 1882. . . Charles de Bourbon, the governor of Lombardy, was born today in 1490. . . Actress Christina Pickles hit the Big Stage today in 1935. . . American film director Michael Bay said “roll ’em” today in 1965. . . Rapper Wish Bone was pulled out today in 1975.

Words To Eat By

“So long as people don’t know how to eat they will not have good cooks.”–Escoffier.

Words To Drink By

“After a few months’ acquaintance with European coffee one’s mind weakens, and his faith with it, and he begins to wonder if the rich beverage of home, with it’s clotted layer of yellow cream on top of it, is not a mere dream after all, and a thing which never existed.”–Mark Twain.

FoodFunniesSquare

A Safari Into Unknown Lands Must Be Taken On A Monday.

The natives will explain why it’s so important, then will join you in a hearty lunch.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, February 10, 2017.
Anniversary Meat & Three @t Windsor Court. Then, Andy’s.

Mary Ann and I celebrated our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary in the place where we always show up on this date. In significant years, we check into the Windsor Court Hotel and spend the night. In off-years, we have lunch or dinner in the Windsor Court’s restaurant, the Grill Room. Mary Ann and I spent the first two nights of our consolidated lives in a spectacular suite at the hotel. The place was at its peak in 1989, and it was all a wonderland for my newly-ordained, deluxe-hotel-loving wife.

On that day we arrived straight from the reception at Kit and Billy Wohl’s house. Mary Ann was exhausted, having sewed all the dresses for all the women young and old in the wedding party. She also made her own dress. We both collapsed into bed for a nap. I was nowhere near as fatigued. But I was hungry. You never get anything to eat at your own wedding.

I called room service for a Windsor Court salad. It’s kind of like a Cobb salad without the chicken, and has always remained on the menu. Lately, that salad has been incorporated into the Grill Room’s delightful meat-and-three lunch menu. For $19.84, you get a choice of a trio of entrees, and three side dishes. Just like you’d find in a diner somewhere in Ohio or Pennsylvania, but with much more interesting food and incomparably better service and surroundings. This is MA’s discovery, and we indulge in it every chance we get.

The meat and three at the Windsor Court.

The meat and three at the Windsor Court.

My menu is substantial, starting with turtle soup, then the salad above, and green beans and almonds. The entree is beef daube on noodles. MA has some grilled fish, brussels sprouts, and what I think were pureed carrots. Somebody knew it was our anniversary, and we were celebrated with a miniature cheesecake surrounded by celebratory words. Lovely!

Anniversary dessert.

Anniversary dessert.

Our anniversary is nice, but I have something else on my mind. Today is the premiere of the new radio configuration for the Food Show. I had no idea what to expect, although the prospect of having to talk for two hours nonstop was heavy on my mind. What we have here is a radio show trying to persuade listeners to buy our new kind of radio, but requiring them to have the new system so I can tell them they need the new system. I had to wonder whether this would be Catch 22.

It wasn’t. We took a number of calls far above what I expected. The only thing that went badly wrong was that I didn’t have a plausible name for the medium. It’s the Food Show on. . . well, on what? It’s not 3WL anymore, or 1350. How do I explain that this audio is sent to an FM station, which then processes it to be sent out on a sub-carrier frequency with only the name “HD2” to nail it down uniquely. It will take a lot of practice to get my moves down.

After I sign-off, the Marys tell me that they are in need of dinner. They choose Andy’s Bistro in Metairie. They sat outdoors for a few minutes, even though it is clearly too windy and cold for this. MA loves Al Fresco. We retreat inside, and learn from a waiter about the fire that took Andy’s out of commission for a few weeks recently.

Well before that, I had my doubts about Andy’s. It started well, but seemed to lose its direction. That idea faded quickly when tonight’s dinner came to the table. I have panned veal with fettuccine Alfredo. The veal was as good as any I’ve had in recent memory. Mary Leigh and I split a large filet mignon. We are reassured by the waiter that this is indeed USDA Prime beef, which most filets are not. It is grilled accurately, crusty around the edges. It’s as fine a filet as I’ve had in many months. Nobody was more surprised than me.

It’s looking more and more that this restaurant may finally beat the curse that caused many predecessors to come and go quickly. That began when it was Archie and Danny’s (as in Manning and Abramowicz) in the mid-1970s.

500BestSquareCrab Cake @ Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse

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It could be that the two best crab cakes in New Orleans are served in restaurants across the street from one another. That’s an odd coincidence, until you learn that the two restaurants are Brennan-family properties. One of the crab cakes is Mr. B’s, and the other is from the hand of Dickie Brennan. Dickie’s version lives up to the rigorous specifications of crab-cake aficionados. Solid crabmeat, in other words. This goes beyond that to include curls of red pepper and green onions on the plate, a ravigote sauce squirted about, and some extra crab lumps for good measure.

Here's a chilled crabmeat dish at Dickie Brennan's, showing how jumbo those crab lumps really are.

Here’s a chilled crabmeat dish at Dickie Brennan’s, showing how jumbo those crab lumps really are.

Dickie Brennan’s Steakhouse. French Quarter: 716 Iberville. 504-522-2467.

This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Creole Lamb Shanks

This is one of the most popular daily specials in all the restaurants that serve it. It’s not hard to make at home, but it needs to cook for the flavors to emerge and for the meat to gain its lip-smacking tenderness. Lamb shanks are relatively inexpensive, too.

Lamb shank with beaten feta cheese at Shaya. Different from my recipe, but starting with the same main ingredient.

Lamb shank with beaten feta cheese at Shaya. Different from my recipe, but starting with the same main ingredient.

  • 4 lamb shanks, about a pound each
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. coarsely-ground black pepper
  • 2 onions, cut into chunks
  • 2 large carrots, cut into thick coins
  • 3 stalks celery, cut into one-inch pieces
  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 2 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1 orange, cut into eighths
  • 1 1/2 cups white wine (best: Gewurztraminer)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

1. Trim as much fat as you conveniently can off the lamb shanks, unless they’re already trimmed. Don’t get too zealous about this; there should be a little fat still there.

2. In a large skillet pan set over a stove burner on medium-high heat, heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Season the shanks with salt and pepper. Brown the shanks on all sides in the skillet. Remove the pan from the heat.

3. Place the shanks into a roasting pan or large skillet with a cover. It should be big enough to fit all the shanks without overlapping, but without a tremendous amount of space between them, either. Add all the other ingredients around it except for the wine.

4. Put the skillet back onto the burner on medium heat. Add the wine. Bring the pan to a boil while whisking to dissolve the pan juices and browned bits. Hold at a light boil for about two minutes, then pour over the shanks.

5. Add enough water to come about one-third up the sides of the shanks. Cover the roasting pan and put it into a preheated 350-degree oven for 90 minutes. Every 30 minutes, turn the shanks.

6. After 90 minutes, remove the cover but leave the pan in the oven. Turn the shanks and roast for another 30 minutes. By this time, the meat should be falling from the bones with just a touch of a fork. If not, add more water (if necessary) and continue to cook uncovered until done. Remove the shanks and keep warm.

7. Strain the pan juices into a tall glass or cup. Discard the vegetables. Let the pan juices settle, and skim off all the fat. If you have more than about a cup, put the liquid into a small saucepan and reduce. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

Serve the shanks with rice, pasta, or vegetables, well-moistened with the pan sauce.

Serves four.

AlmanacSquare February 16, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–12

Annals Of Fast Food

Richard McDonald, one of the two brothers who opened the original McDonald’s fast-service hamburger restaurant in Los Angeles, was born today in 1909. He came up with the building design, including the golden arches.

Food Calendar

AlmondsIt is National Almond Day. The Almond Board of California (where seventy-five percent of the world’s commercial almond crop is grown) knew nothing about it, but. . . Almonds are best known in New Orleans for their involvement with trout amandine. That’s really a French dish, but it was once so common in New Orleans restaurants that we considered it our own until Ella Brennan and Paul Prudhomme at Commander’s Palace decided to remake the dish using pecans. Now that seems to be the city’s favorite nut-and-fish dish. Almonds are a very good thing to have hanging around your pantry, for use as an appetite-arresting snack. The oils in them are good for your cholesterol balance.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Bologna Lake is in northeastern Minnesota, nine miles from the Canadian border. This is wilderness country, the glacier-scraped lakes and marsh-lined rivers interspersing the gently rolling terrain. Bologna Lake is about a half-mile east-west and a third of a mile north-south, with a small island in its center. It drains into the well-named Frost River. Surprisingly, you don’t have to travel far to get to the nearest restaurant: Gunflint Lodge, a wilderness vacation resort right on the Canadian border.

Edible Dictionary

amandine, [AH-mahn-deen], French, adj.–Garnished with almonds. The almonds are almost always sliced, usually thinly. By far the most common dish done amandine style is fish, with the fish either broiled or fried, and the almonds toasted and usually tossed in a butter sauce. Vegetables also get the amandine treatment, particularly green beans (a Thanksgiving classic), broccoli, and peas. Chicken amandine is not unheard of. In recent years, small rounds of brie are baked with butter and almonds, particularly in coffeeshops. Amandine usually connotes a savory dish; pastries, even with a lot of almonds, are rarely referred to with that word. A common misspelling is “almondine.”

Food Inventions

Today in 1932, in France, Jean Mantelet patented a kitchen device that evolved into the Moulinex food mill. This is a wonderful tool: you load vegetables or fruits that you want to strain into a hopper, you turn a crank, and two spring-loaded blades push the food through a metal screen with small, perforated holes. It gives, among other things, perfectly smooth mashed potatoes without messing up the texture or flavor. It’s a very handy gizmo than not enough American kitchens have.

Ancient Drinks

Pharoah Tutankhamen’s tomb was opened on this date in 1923. The discoverers were surprised to find unopened bottles of Champagne in there. The Pharoah’s favorite bubbly appeared to be Tuttinger.

Annals Of Food Research

On this date in 1932, the first patent ever issued for a tree went to James Markham, who developed a new variety of peach. Its principal asset was that it ripened later than other varieties. So it was mostly a marketing thing.

Food On The Air

Today in 1912, Del Sharbutt was born. He had the classic radio voice, with the depth and resonance of an elevator shaft. Radio guys of my generation dearly wished they had voices like Del Sharbutt’s. In his commercials for Campbell’s Soup, he ad-libbed what would become the soup’s catchphrase: “Mmm-mm good!” He was on all the major radio networks, but is best known as the announcer on Your Hit Parade.

Food And Wine Namesakes

Today is the birthday (1955) of Margaux Hemingway, who was named for the first-growth Bordeaux wine Chateau Margaux. . . Rapper Ice-T–whose real name Tracy Marrow also refers to comestibles–was born today in 1958. . . British actor Ian Lavender was born today in 1946. . . Ricou Browning, actor and director, came to life today in 1930.

Words To Eat By

“Don’t eat too many almonds; they add weight to the breasts.”–Colette.

“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.”–Mark Twain.

“His mind was like a Roquefort cheese, so ripe that it was palpably falling to pieces.”Van Wyck Brooks, American author, born today in 1886. He was talking about fellow author Ford Madox Ford.

Words To Drink By

“Hard work never killed anybody, but why take a chance?”–Edgar Bergen, speaking as his dummy Charlie McCarthy. Bergen, born today in 1903, was a radio ventriloquist with a long-running show in the 1940s and 1950s. He was Candice Bergen’s dad.

FoodFunniesSquare

Coming Soon To Magazine Street. . .

A new bakery with a single specialty that everybody loves, prepared according to the highest, most up-to-date methods.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 February 9, 2017.
The Old Radio Setup Dies. The Eulogy.

The radio station’s block-wide facilities are buzzing. Today, a new 24/7 program takes over the 1350 AM airspace. It is the first time since WSMB signed on the air in 1925 that the station will have a total turnover in its air product. Even the tiniest details of the old station will disappear, making way for a totally new music radio station.

I don’t know much about the new broadcast, other than what I learned when I met the consultant who was brought in to create the new package. What I do know all about is the old regime. I have been part of it since July 18, 1988. I have been aware of WSMB since the early 1960s, when my big sister listened to it all the time.

The old WSMB began as a kind of radio vaudeville. There were no networks or recorders back then, so everything was live. The shows would be real shows, with live music, drama, comedy conversation, and news. That lasted until the advent of NBC, of which WSMB was one of the first affiliates. The people might have changed, but the entertainment was steady. It was the jazz age, and everybody was thrilled by the whole idea of radio.

It hardly changed throught he 1930s, 1940s, and into the 1950s. Then network radio faded away, and one by one the shows were replaced by disc jockeys. They were, however, the same talents that had been there all along. A lot of the same guys were still around in the late 1970s, when the on-air voices started doing talk shows. That’s what was playing up to the second when the new guys took over today at 6 p.m.

I asked to host the last hour of the old WSMB (which has been called WWWL for almost a decade). The management thinks it’s a good idea. I flesh out everything that outline in the paragraphs above. After giving all that history, we roll my theme song (“L’il Darlin,” a Count Basie masterpiece). I gave the old station ID as I and dozens of announcers before me had done thousands of times before: “This is 1350, WWWL Radio, New Orleans.” I played the National Anthem. It fades in the last second before the new sound stepped in.

Then I left the building. Tomorrow, I will continue my Food Show as I have since 1988, but we will have a new identity. Officially, it’s “WWL-FM, HD2, Kenner-New Orleans.” We are a subsidiary service of WWL-FM, which on our FM dial is 105.3, with a new transmitter and a lot of power. This solves a lot of problems, the worse of which were the ever-increasing static on AM, and the lowering of effective power at night to protect other stations far away.

But it creates a new problem for me and others on the staff. To listen to our new station, you need a special radio. These are neither hard to get nor expensive. I have four of them in home and office, and all the cars in my family can receive HD2 easily. But people don’t like change, and there will almost certainly be some disappointment that one must do a little more than turning the radio on in order to listen to it. This will be my big challenge in the coming months. If I succeed, I will be a genuine pioneer.

More on this in tomorrow’s diary, where we do the first show on the new frequency. Spoiler: it goes very well.

After over 90 years of fighting static, low power at night, and other problems, the Food Show has moved to the latest radio technology. It’s called HD, and it replaces my long-running AM radio program with a powerful new signal and sound quality sharper. Than FM or even CDs.

But there is a problem. In order to avail yourself of HD radio, you need one of the following:

1. An HD radio. These start in price at around $40.
2. A computer, smart phone, smart pad, or anything else that will play audio from online.
3. A Web app. The two best are the WWL app, which plays HD seamlessly. Or the TimeIn app.
4. A car radio equipped for HD. You may already have this. Most new cars of the past three years or so have this already installed. I didn’t know my own year-old car had it until I fooled around with it one day and found that it did.
5. There are other solutions to getting the HD2 sound and the Food Show in your ear. I’ll present those every day in this space for the next few weeks. options that will do the job.

The Food Show–now in its 28th year–doesn’t want to lose any listeners. Unfortunately, some people will have to shuffle their audio equipment to make sure that they don’t miss anything. And even if they do, they can listen to ever second of the Food Show by downloading the podcats. It’s available for every show, every day, for weeks after it first aired.

I especially invite you to call in to our show from 3-7 p.m. weekdays. The phone number is the same as before: 504-260-6368.

Thanks for listening. I know you’ll enjoy the new Food Show on 105.3 FM, HD2, WWL FM.

Tastefully yours,
Tom Fitzmorris

RecipeSquare-150x150

Alligator Creole-Italian Style

This dish takes advantage of the resemblance alligator tail meat has–in texture, color, and weight–to baby white veal. The hardest part of this dish is finding the alligator. If you can’t, you can use veal, pork loin, or even chicken. Oddly enough, the best side dish for this is buttered stone-ground grits.

  • 1 lb. alligator tail meat, sliced across the grain, 1/4 inch thick
  • All-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1/2 bulb fennel, chopped
  • 1 28-oz. can Italian plum tomatoes, with 1/2 cup of the juice
  • 4 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

1. Dust the alligator cutlets very lightly with flour and a little salt and white pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet to just shy of smoking temperature and sauté the cutlets about a minute on each side. Remove from the skillet and keep warm.

2. In the remaining olive oil, sauté the onion, bell pepper, celery, fennel, and parsley until tender. Chop the tomatoes and add them to the skillet with the tomato juice, parsley, cayenne, lemon juice, and white wine. Bring to a simmer.

3. Return the alligator cutlets to the pan and cook them in the sauce for two or three minutes. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Serve with lots of sauce and hot buttered grits on the side.

Serves four.

500BestSquareFresh Fish Chapala Style @ El Gato Negro

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Assuming the fish of the day is something good and local, this is among the best Mexican entrees around town. It’s pan seared with roasted squash, bell peppers, and avocados, all pulled together by a spicy salsa. What brings excitement to the food at El Gato Negro (“the black cat”) is the marinating, seasoning, and grilling, all uniquely accomplished. Specials are of great interest, bringing to the table Caribbean lobsters now and then.

Dining room of El Gato Negro in the Warehouse District.

Dining room of El Gato Negro in the Warehouse District.

El Gato Negro. French Quarter: ||81 French Market Place. 504-525-9752.

||Lakeview: 300 Harrison Ave. 504-488-0107. ||Warehouse District: 800 S. Peters St. 504-525-5752.This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare February 15, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–13

Annals Of Funny Weather

New Orleans got nine inches of snow on this date in 1895. It caused all the sno-ball stands to close early.

Philosophy Of Taste

Today is the birthday, in 1851, of philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. One of his quotations rings true to me: “We think in generalities, but we live in detail.” This is why most restaurateurs don’t understand their customers, and vice-versa. Restaurateurs deal in generalities–getting the big job done for the greatest number of people. But the big picture is lost on most restaurant customers. They observe, praise, and complain about small details. The most common complaint I hear from restaurant patrons is that they couldn’t get their water, tea, coffee, or cocktail refilled when they wanted it. That’s a small issue, but if a restaurant doesn’t get that right it causes more upset among customers than, say, the serving of frozen fish does.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

In general, ground beef is a cheap, fatty mess. In particular, a hamburger is pretty good.

Food Through History

FarmingOne of the most important advances in farming history was the invention of the mechanical reaper. It made the vast acreage of grain in the Midwest and Prairie states (as well as in other grain-growing areas of the world) a breadbasket of incomparable richness. The reaper was invented by Cyrus McCormick, who was born today in 1809. His company evolved into International Harvester, which is still around.

Benjamin Franklin ran an ad in Philadelphia today in 1758 for mustard, which he ground and packed in glass bottles. It was the first mustard in America. Franklin, a gastronome of the highest order as well as an entrepreneur, had come to love the stuff on a journey to France.

This is the birthday, in 37 AD, of the Roman Emperor Nero. A real pig, he gave gourmands a bad name. His despicable policies inspired the Book of Revelation.

Food Across America

StLouisMOToday is the birthday of St. Louis, Missouri, founded in 1764. Two famous dishes came from there, and still bear the city’s name. The first is St. Louis-style barbecue ribs. Those are big spare ribs cut from down low on the pig. Some barbecue connoisseurs consider them the best cut of ribs. Less well known is a an ice cream concoction called a St. Louis Concrete. It’s a shake made so thick that if you turn the cup upside down it won’t come out. The classic is made with frozen custard.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Grits Day. Grits are ground hominy, which in turn is what’s left of a corn kernel after the starches have been dissolved away by a lye solution. Bad start for good food, right? As with most foods, some grits are better than others. The best we know are the stone ground grits from a company called Adluh. In an astounding and mutually annihilating clash of stereotypes, Adluh grits are kosher. Here’s their website.

Yellow grits are more fun to eat than white grits, we think. Our standard on grits is that they not be utterly soft, yet be just barely thick enough to be eaten with a fork. Rubbery grits are anathema, as are runny grits. You need salt in there, as well as tremendous amount of butter.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Grit, Texas is in the beautiful Hill Country, right under the X in Texas, near the junction of US 377 and TX 29. You might pass this way if you took a scenic route west from Austin. Grit is about five miles from the bigger town of Mason, where you can grab lunch at the Taqueria Tres Caminos.

Food In Music

In 1958 on this date, Jerry Lee Lewis performed Great Balls of Fire on American Bandstand. Over at Nor-Joe Imports, they have a delicious item called fireballs, made by marinating marble-sized lumps of fresh-milk mozzarella cheese in a very spicy olive oil. Vincent’s Restaurant puts those fireballs between two pieces of fried eggplant to make what they call an eggplant sandwich.

In other edible music notes, today in 1957 Harry Belafonte hit Number One with the Banana Boat Song, better known as “Day-O!”

Edible Dictionary

hominy, n.–Dried corn kernels treated with a mild lye solution to remove the hulls and germ to avoid sprouting. The name comes from a Native American language, logically enough, since they are the ones who developed the process, using hot water and ash to do the job. When ground, hominy becomes the familiar grits eaten with breakfast in the South. You can buy whole hominy kernels canned or in bags, but it’s not much eaten in that form. One dish in which whole hominy is essential is the Southwestern American stew called posole, very familiar in New Mexico.

Food Namesakes

Sugar Ray Leonard scored a knockout in the third round of a boxing match against Bruce Finch on this date in 1982. . . Sherry Jackson, movie actress, was born today in 1942. . . Frank “Home Run” Baker, who has a rare double food name, was purchased by the Yankees today in 1916. . . Josh Sole, an Italian rugby player, was born in New Zealand today in 1980.

Words To Eat By

“You don’t develop good teeth by eating mush.”–Earl Henry “Red” Blaik, football coach, born today in 1897.

Words To Drink By

“What you eat and drink is 50 percent of life.”–Gerard Depardieu.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Answer Is In The Refrigerator.

Yep, when life seems confusing, just open the door, and begin reading.

Click here for the cartoon.

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