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

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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.

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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.

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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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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Wednesday, February 8, 2017.
I Get My Own Dinner At Antoine’s.

The Marys have a lot of work on their hands. Mary Leigh has a full-time job, and on a few days this week it required her to put in a few extra hours. She loves the work, most of which is involved in drawing, lettering, painting, and general graphic design. She is adept at all of that.

Meanwhile, MA is preparing to leave town for another visit with our grandson Jackson and his parents in Los Angeles. Mary Ann restates her offer to do dinner with me at Antoine’s for my birthday. But my birthday is past. No big deal. But I can’t get Antoine’s out of my mind. Tonight, mainly to get it off the Marys’ schedules (they don’t share my love for the big old restaurant), I just go ahead and dine there solo.

Antoine’s is not especially busy when I arrive. It will nearly fill up within the next two hours. A big private party is in full career upstairs. Charles Carter, my regular waiter, is in charge of that extravaganza. He takes out a few minutes to come down and say hello. I know that he knows that I know that I understand that my waiter is so good that he is in high demand, and I don’t expect him to do more than visit.

That is made up for by the greatest number of waiters I’ve ever had at my table. I don’t know most of them, but I like knowing that I get this kind of treatment without having to do anything. In a way, all the waiters at Antoine’s are my waiters.

Oysters Rockefeller, Bienville, and Thermidor @ Antoine's.

Oysters Rockefeller, Bienville, and Thermidor @ Antoine’s.

I begin with oysters Rockefeller, Bienville and Thermidor. You don’t get much more classic Antoine’s than that. The sauces were a little loose tonight, but not enough to mention.

The entree is something I have been thinking about since the first time I had it some twenty years ago: two big American lamb chops from Natco, the meat wholesaler that sells to all the major restaurants. Antoine’s makes good case in claiming it has the best lamb chops in town. These are certainly all I hoped for.

Antoines-FrontDR1

I have caramel custard for dessert, something I love but haven’t had here for awhile, because through most of recorded history it was far too sweet. They’ve fixed that, and included a few berries to add some contrasts in colors and flavors.

Through the evening between waiters, I flip through a new book by Earl Hampton, Jr. He calls the radio show fairly often. His book is The Streetcars of New Orleans 1964-Present. Why 1964? That was the year when the Canal streetcar was replaced by buses, leaving only the St. Charles car as the last gasp of the 1920s trolleys.

Buses, trains and streetcars are among my geekier hobbies. This book is happily jammed with pictures and obscure stories about even more obscure points of history. There’sa also a chapter in here about the “trackless trolleys,” the electric buses that replaced the streetcars on many lines in the 1940s and 1950s. I remember them well, having taken the Tulane trackless to Jesuit every day for three years. Those old high-voltage jobs also went away in the 1960s.

I know the Marys will chide me a little for going to Antoine’s without them, but as soon as I would launch into bus and streetcar trivia, they would look about for suicide methods.

500BestSquareRoasted Chicken Breast @ La Petite Grocery

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The French side of this Uptown bistro’s soul demands that there is always a good roasted chicken dish on the menu. The one on the current card is a breast sent out with a confit of soft wild mushrooms, with red quinoa covering most of the chicken’s surface. Pureed parsnips disguise themselves as mashed potatoes, at least until you eat them. Is this really $29? Yes, and we arrived at that price mark sooner than I thought, too. It its defense, the chicken holds up its end in the flavor department.

Fries at La Petite Grocery

Fries at La Petite Grocery are hard to resist, regardless of what else you eat.

La Petite Grocery. Uptown: 4238 Magazine. 504-891-3377.

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

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Tasso Shrimp

Chef Jamie Shannon’s too-short career (he died tragically of cancer at age 40, in the prime of his life) brought many good dishes to the menu at Commander’s Palace. This is one of his best. It looks simple: three shrimp on a minimal sauce. But it explodes with flavor. The tasso is a Cajun-style ham cured to be very spicy, smoky, and salty. It’s used more as a seasoning than as a meat. I’d recommend Chef Paul Prudhomme’s brand, which is available in stores and by mail order.

  • 6 Tbs. softened butter
  • Pinch of chopped garlic
  • Pinch of chopped shallots (or onion)
  • 1 Tbs. Crystal Hot Sauce
  • 1 tsp. whipping cream
  • 24 jumbo shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 4 oz. tasso, sliced into matchstick-size pieces
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/4 cup pepper jelly

1. In a pan over medium-low heat, sauté garlic and shallots in a little butter for a minute. Add hot sauce and bring to a boil. Cook until very little liquid is left. Add cream and cook about one more minute.

2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the softened butter, a little at a time, until it takes on a creamy consistency. This is beurre blanc. Keep warm.

3. Cut a slit down the back of each shrimp and insert a strip of tasso. Close the slit with a toothpick.

4. Mix the salt into the flour in a wide bowl. Dust the shrimp with the seasoned flour.

5. In a skillet, fry the shrimp in oil heated to about 375 degrees. Drain.

6. Place the cooked shrimp in a bowl with the beurre blanc. Toss to coat.

7. Spread a thin film of pepper jelly on the bottom of a small dish and arrange three shrimp on each plate. Garnish with pickled okra or pickled green beans.

Serves eight.

AlmanacSquare February 14, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–14

Be My Valentine

ValentinesAlthough this is St. Valentine’s Day, today has been noted as special for centuries before its namesake saint lived. February 14 was a Roman pagan holiday honoring Juno. The next day, young men and women would hook up for the duration of the festival of Lupercalia. Many pairings continued beyond that, and so the love lore attached to the date. The historic St. Valentine was a rebellious third-century Roman priest. Emperor Claudius II had banned marriages because he was running low on soldiers. Valentine married couples in secret until he was caught and executed on the day that became his.

BeeSt. Valentine, in addition to being the patron saint of people in love, is also the patron of beekeepers. Honey. Let’s also remember that we would be bereft of many of the fruits and vegetables we eat were it not for the busyness of bees.

Nowadays, romances are more stressed than formed on Valentine’s Day. Men have a propensity to take it too lightly, while women have the opposite tendency. Despite that, it remains one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants, which fill up with people who only dine out a few days of the year.

Celebrations

St. Valentine, in addition to being the patron saint of people in love, is also the patron of beekeepers. Honey. Let’s also remember that we would be bereft of many of the fruits and vegetables we eat were it not for the busyness of bees.

Nowadays, romances are more stressed than formed on Valentine’s Day. Men have a propensity to take it too lightly, while women have the opposite tendency. Despite that, it remains one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants, which fill up with people who only dine out a few days of the year.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Only eat Louisiana strawberries for the next few months. Isn’t that obvious?

Food Calendar

BoxOfChocolatesIt is Cream-Filled Chocolate Day, says the Web. The explanation is obvious. In the course of looking up background on this, I found out why it’s nearly impossible to fill chocolates with cream or liqueur or any other liquid at home. But the explanation itself is too complex for laymen like me and you.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Choconut Center, New York is a crossroads on the road from Binghamton to its regional airport, all of which is just north of the Pennsylvania state line. “Choconut” is an Anglicized version of “Chugnut,” the Native American name for this general area. If nobody has created a candy with that name from around there, a good marketing bet has been missed. The nearest restaurants are the Oasis and Cacciatore’s, both in Johnson City, a suburb of Binghamton, a mile and a half south of Choconut Center.

Edible Dictionary

spaghetti alla chitarra, Italian, n.–String pasta cut by thin, parallel wires stretched across a wooden base. It resembles the strings of a guitar (“chitarra”). The pasta sheets are pressed through the strings, resulting in medium-thin noodles that are square in cross-section, not round as most spaghetti is. All this is done by hand, and because of that spaghetti alla chitarra is considered as being of better quality than extruded pasta.

Wine Around The World

This is Trifon Zarezan day in Bulgaria. That’s an ancient festival marking the end of the dead months of winter and the coming of the first signs of spring. It has particular significance in the vineyards, where a ritual of pruning takes place. There’s also a sexual and intoxicating aspect to the day. It’s a long story.

Food Through History

In 1889 today, the first load of fresh fruit shipped by rail from the West Coast to the East Coast left Los Angeles. The cargo was oranges, almost an exotic fruit back then and much prized. . . Speaking of fruit, on this day in 1803 one Moses Coats won a patent for a gizmo that peeled apples. . . Today in 1859, Oregon joined the Union as the thirty-third state. It makes first-class wines, particularly Pinot Noir. But it also the country’s biggest producer of hazelnuts. They also pull a lot of salmon from their streams, notably the state fish, the Chinook salmon. . . This is also the anniversary of statehood (in 1912) for Arizona. The cuisine there is interesting, blending Mexican and West Coast cooking.

Food Namesakes

Derrick Witherspoon, a pro football running back, grabbed the ball of life and ran with it on this date in 1971. . . Actress Florence Rice first appeared today in 1911. . . Captain James Cook, who turns up often in this department, was murdered in Hawaii (he called them the Sandwich Islands) today in 1779. He was making his third visit there. . . American actor Paul Butcher came to life today in 1994.

Words To Eat By

“Honey comes out of the air. At early dawn the leaves of trees are found bedewed with honey. Whether this is the perspiration of the sky or a sort of saliva of the stars, or the moisture of the air purging itself, nevertheless it brings with it the great pleasure of its heavenly nature. It is always of the best quality when it is stored in the best flowers.”–Pliny The Elder.

“I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.”–Nora Ephron.

Words To Drink By

“She looked as if she had been poured into her clothes and had forgotten to say ‘when.'”–P.G. Wodehouse, British humor writer, died today in 1975.

FoodFunniesSquare

Approach Chocolates Carefully On This Day.

A box of chocolates–especially if it’s in the shape of a heart–should be treated with suspicion if it has already been opened. And remember, the darker the color, the better the chocolate.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, February 6, 2016.
On Route 66. DiMartino’s.

I turn sixty-six, which makes no sense to me at all.

I treat myself so well during the rest of the year that I feel no neglect in having an everyday menu of dining tonight. The Marys, being as busy as I am, accept my suggestion that we lunch at DiMartino’s in Covington. I have red beans and rice with smoked sausage, thereby keeping one major tradition. The beans are good and generously served. The girls have salads, which are made well by DiMartino’s. The girls continue to tell me that they will take me to dinner at Antoine’s with me as an evening opens up.

The word comes from the executives of the radio stations that my show will move to its new schedule this Thursday. I will host the final hour of the old station beginning at five. Then my show will come from the HD2 facet of WWL-FM, 105.3. At that moment, my familiar old 1350 AM will begin running what is known in the business as an Urban music format. That certainly will be appropriate for New Orleans. At the same time, a new FM station carrying the 1350 brand and program will take to the air. Both have good coverage in the core of the city. But according to the FCC rules, you can’t have the FM without the AM. I can’t say I fully understand this, but it doesn’t matter, because I am increasingly enthusiastic about the new facilities from which my broadcast will continue stating on Friday.

A happy cap on the day comes when Alissa Rowe, the director of NPAS, expresses interest in the duet version of “I Won’t Dance.” Carol E. and I have rehearsed this well, but we both blow the lyrics badly. But the point of our efforts are clear. I think we’re in the show.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017.
Galliano’s For The First Time.

Mary Ann meets me in town for dinner. Still not yet at Antoine’s, but at Galliano. This is a new restaurant created by the team that owns the excellent Restaurant Rebirth. Galliano takes over the former Root restaurant on the corner of Julia and Fulton, deep in the Warehouse District. I have misgivings about going to such a new restaurant–it’s only open a couple of months. But Chef Ricky Cheramie has shown me enough good food at other postings that it seems like a small risk.

I am only half correct about that. Galliano’s food is good, but the bugbear of lately-opened restaurants is here in force. The service staff–or, at least the staff taking care of our table–is not up to speed. The waiter mistakes my cocktail for a glass of water, and destroys it half way. I make it clear (as in I told him three times–) that the two hot dishes I ordered be brought out separately. They are not, and so the soup gets cold while the pork chop stays warm–or vice-versa.

On the other hand, the food at least offers promise for the future. The chowder of crabmeat, corn and bacon is very good. The porkchop is generous and well seasoned. But it’s overcooked, and the other elements of the plate are overwhelming in substance and flavor. They should remove any two items from that plate.

The good parts of the dinner are grilled oysters, with a forceful topping that might be a bit much. The chicken gumbo passes ML’s standards. The menu–which is twice as extensive as I was expecting– goes on to include a lot more Cajun food. That last aspect may be the best part about the food here: it has a much wider panorama of Cajun flavors than we are used to.

I’ll come back after the waitstaff stabilizes. I am happy to see that the former Roots space–always cool but a bit much– has been toned down from the screaming green chairs that used to fill the room.

Galliano. Warehouse District: 200 Julia St. 504-324-4065.

500BestSquareDuck And Pistachio Paté @ Brigtsen’s

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Paté is such a big deal in France that it’s no wonder the country rules the category. The one everybody likes best is paté de campagne–country-style paté, chunky and meaty, eaten with a fork, not spread on bread. The all-time champion in the making of that kind of paté in New Orleans was the late Gerard Crozier. In the modern day, Frank Brigtsen makes a duck pate very similar to the one at Crozier’s. He serves it with pickles he makes himself (not even Crozier did that), and a homemade red onion marmalade. Great start to a meal.

Brigtsen’s. Riverbend: 723 Dante. 504-861-7610.

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

Pasta Salad Allegro

This is the best pasta salad I’ve ever had, created by Chef Ron Wilemon of Allegro Bistro in the Energy Center. Great picnic food. The use of tortelloni (or tortellini–same thing, but a little bigger) adds charm to the dish.

  • 2 lbs. cheese tortellini, preferably multi-color
  • 2 Tbs. Creole mustard
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1 lb. smoked sausage or andouille, cut into small slivers
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, cubed
  • 16 (approx.) sun-dried tomatoes, soaked a few minutes in warm water, sliced into julienne strips
  • 3 cans artichoke hearts packed in water, drained, rinsed, quartered and pulled apart
  • 20-30 leaves fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 each red, yellow, and green bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • 1 green onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tsp. oregano

PastaSaladIngredients

1. Cook the tortellini until still firm. Drain and refrigerate.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the Creole mustard and the vinegar together with about a third of the olive oil until smooth. Add 2 Tbs. cold water, then add the rest of the olive oil slowly while whisking constantly.

3. Add all the other ingredients and toss carefully (avoid breaking the pasta) to distribute the ingredients evenly. Let it sit for about fifteen minutes before serving.

Serves eight to twelve.

AlmanacSquare February 13, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–15
Valentine’s Day–1

Food Calendar

TortelliniThe buzz on the Web is that today is National Tortellini Day. Tortellini come from the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. They’re small ravioli–little pillows of pasta usually rolled up around the stuffing instead lying flat. The filling is most often cheese, but spinach, tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, or other fillings–more often vegetable than meat–can be enclosed in tortellini. A slightly large variation is called tortelloni, which no doubt has its own special day. My favorite tortellini (or tortelloni) dish is a salad Chef Ron Wilemon of Allegro Bistro made at a party once. I badgered him for the recipe, and I have it below, in the Recipes department.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Buster Lake is in East Texas, 131 miles northeast of Houston. It’s unlikely that buster crabs are caught here, but possible. The lake is an abandoned curve in the Angelina River, which runs through a marsh before flowing into the Neches River behind the Bay Steinhagen Lake, a reservoir. Crabs need brackish water at least, though, so maybe it’s better to fish for sac-a-lait and catfish here. If even that fails, the Catfish Hut is eight miles east in Jasper.

Edible Dictionary

osteria, Italian, n.–A very informal restaurant in Italy, with minimal service and an abbreviated menu. Not much service is needed, really, because osteria tend to be patronized by the same people and families, who meet friends in the place and sometimes even serve themselves. A hallmark of the osteria is that it offers a set menu each day. You show up, and that’s what you eat. In recent times, the usage has broadened to take in restaurants with a daily fixed menu but without the regular customers–unless you call tourists regulars. The osteria grew out of the inn for travelers, who expected to be fed, but with simple food.

Annals Of Food Research

G. Brown Goode was born today in 1851. His contribution to our tables was a new two-volume atlas of the fisheries of the United States, published in the 1880s. It was the first resource with its scope, and included over 500 etchings of the many species of fish and shellfish that were caught and sold at the time.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

MatchesIf you have to light a stove burner with a strike-anywhere match, it will never ignite properly on its own ever again. Unless that happened to be your last match.

Food In Sho-Biz

In 1972, the musical Grease opened on Broadway. A year later exactly, another musical, El Grande de Coca-Cola opened in New York City. A movie called Kitchen Stories premiered on this date in 2004. It was a comedy about making one’s kitchen work by the assembly-line method. I hear it wasn’t very funny. What was funny was a 1932 Our Gang episode called Free Eats. It featured the debut of George “Spanky” McFarland in the series.

Music To Chew Bubble Gum By

On the musical side of sho-biz, today in 1967 the Beatles song Strawberry Fields Forever was released. . . The Osmond Family had a Number One hit on this day in 1971, with their song One Bad Apple.

Food Namesakes

Eddie Pye, infielder for the Dodgers, was born today in 1967. . . German artist George Schrimpf was born today in 1889. . . Canadian musician Jeff Waters of Annihilator was born today in 1966.

Words To Eat By

“All the good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow.”–Grant Wood, artist, who was born today in 1892.

“Fish should smell like the tide. Once they smell like fish, it’s too late.”–Oscar Gizelt, former manager of Delmonico’s in New York.

Words To Drink By

“Fill up the goblet and reach to me some!
Drinking makes wise, but dry fasting makes glum.”
William R. Alger, “Wine Song of Kaitmas,” 1865).

FoodFunniesSquare

Getting The Important Heath Statistics About Your Food.

Finding out about heavy metal concentrations is one of the most critical indices of that you eat.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, February 4, 2017.
The Best Use Of Jumbo Lump. I Am A Chairman.

Mary Ann recognizes the importance of birthdays more than anyone I know. (Other than my big sister Judy, who to my knowledge has never failed to send a card to every birthday celebrant she knows, including even in-laws.) Mary Ann’s list doesn’t spread that widely. But those who are close to her will find her arranging numerous special events for those in her inner circle. She attacks these with a sense of duty. In exchange, she expects a lot from her own birthdays, which usually are more like festivals than one-day-only specials.

This morning, she says that in honor of my birthday this Monday. she will break her fast with me at breakfast. We leave early in the day for Bella Luna, but not quite early enough. The person who arrived right before we did–at around seven-thirty–got the last open table.

It is worth waiting for. The best breakfast item at Mattina Bella, one that rivals the best egg dishes in the most famous breakfast and lunch places. It’s the blue crab Benedict, made by poaching eggs and serving them on English muffins, covered with a very light hollandaise. What makes this special is the garnish of mushrooms and jumbo lump crabmeat. I see a lot of misuse of the expression “jumbo lump crabmeat,” much of which is not even close to that expensive gem of the kitchen. But here the crabmeat really does come out in lumps about the size of your fingertip. About the only way somebody could not like this dish is to have a dislike of crabmeat.

From this point, we head off on our errands. We meet up again in early afternoon at the home of Ceil Lanaux, a close friend and the mother of two of Jude’s fellow Scouts in that glorious age. It’s Ceil’s birthday, and the house is full. Many of the older people speak Croatian; Ceil is steeped in that culture.

Little did we know that on this very day the most celebrated Croatian person in New Orleans–Drago Cvitanovich–would pass away at the age of 94. Insulated from that news, the guests ate the makings of muffulettas, crawfish pies, and a number of dips and desserts.

There are too many cars in Ceil’s yard, and it’s hard for me to get away in time for my radio show at three. I barely make it.

While I’m in mid-show, the Marys have a scheme underway. Mary Ann knows from her time in radio that at the top of the hour I will get away from my desk to stretch my legs and get some water. I open the door and see, in the middle of our living room, a plump chair decorated with a wide assortment of circles. “Sit down in it!” Mary Ann commands. I do, and it leans back. Not like the duct-tape-covered chair sat in by Frasier’s father in the television show, but a very comfortable chair indeed, leaning well back.

Mary Ann knows that I have long wanted something like this. Her thought about the kind of chair put her in an “over my dead body” frame of mind. But while looking for something else, she saw this in a furniture store and decided it was just the right compromise. Ideal for me, acceptable to them. It only took twenty-seven years of asking for me to get either this or a big rocking chair. The perfect birthday gift. And I still have two more days before my day.

I test the comfort of the new chair (it passes with flying colors) by watching an old movie with MA. “To Be Or Not To Be” proves to be a vehicle for Jack Benny in the 1940s, when he didn’t really look or act like Jack Benny yet. Benny would wind up being the greatest of radio stars for most of his career. When radio comedies ended, he moved to television. But that changed his show so much that he never returned to his early fame. He became the kind of star you’d see once in awhile on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show.

Sunday, February 5, 2017.
Is That Me Watching The Super Bowl?

I go to church to sing, then go to Rouses for the groceries I forgot to buy yesterday. I fail, however, to pick up a few other items I need.

While I’m gone, Mary Ann decides that the pizza she wanted to make front scratch is too much work for a party that will take place this evening. Across the lake,yet. She instead makes a variation of beef Wellington, in which thick, oblong hamburgers, charred just right, are wrapped in puff pastry and baked. These look and taste great. Also among her catering of the party is guacamole, spinach-artichoke dip, and boudin, and grilled andouille. The two sausages come from Savoie’s. MA has long said that she thinks Savoie andouille is the best, and expected equally fine things from the new boudin. She doesn’t like it as much as she expected. I thought it was all pretty good.

I have no horses inthis race. The dessert will be chocolate and vanilla cup cakes made with her usual precision by Mary Leigh. The party is in her apartment. We invite the Fowlers and a few other people to join us, but we appear not to have sent out the invitations soon enough.

It’s a Super Bowl party, taking place in the apartment house’s lobby, with a big screen projected onto a large white wall. About a dozen and a half other residents are sprawled out. The Marys display our big spread. When it becomes certain that we have twoo much food by a factor of three, we invite the other folks to try our grub.

We stay through the first half and Lady Ga-Ga’s act. And then we pack up to leave, because the score is lopsided and trend seems destined to continue that way. I realize just now that I never did hear who won the game.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Hot Garlic And Tequila Chuck Filets

Really, really spicy, this is a surprising way to serve steak. It uses an overlooked cut of beef that is much better than its low price would lead you to believe. Chuck mock tenderloin really does look like filet. The main difference in cooking it is that it takes longer than filet to reach any degree of doneness. The instructions here look lengthy, but you’ll find this simple to cook.

  • 2 heads garlic
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 Anaheim chile pepper
  • 3 sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
  • 6 medium leaves fresh basil
  • 2 lbs. chuck mock tenderloin (also known as “shoulder filets”)
  • 2 Tbs. butter
  • Salt
  • 1 1/2 oz. tequila
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

1. Cut off the top of the garlic heads, exposing the meat of the cloves. Pour the olive oil into a puddle on a baking pan, and set the garlic heads cut side down on top of the oil. Bake for one hour, or until the cloves are quite soft and browned.

2. Roast the peppers under a broiler, turning them until the outsides are charred and blistered. Let the peppers cool until you can handle them. Wear plastic gloves. Peel away the skin, and open the peppers. Remove the seeds and the membrane inside. Rinse the peppers in hot water. Cut them into thin strips about an inch long.

3. When the garlic is roasted, remove and peel the cloves (you can squeeze them out, usually). Put them into a food processor bowl with a little salt, the parsley and basil, and about a tablespoon of the peppers. Process into a rough paste.

4. Cut the chuck tenders into pieces about eight ounces each. (They may already come that way in the package.) Cut slits in the sides of each, about two-thirds of the way through and an inch wide. Using a spoon, stuff with about a tablespoon of the garlic mixture. Season the filets on the outside with salt.

5. Heat the butter in a heavy skillet and pan-broil the steaks over medium high heat. They will first stick to the pan then almost break away; that’s the time to turn them. Keep rolling them over until they’re browned all around. They should be medium-rare by then; to cook further, move them to a pan in the oven at 400 degrees.

6. After you remove the steaks from the skillet, lower the heat and add the tequila (from a glass, not the bottle!) to the pan. Bring to a boil and whisk to dissolve the browned bits in the bottom of the pan. When the liquid is two-thirds boiled away, add the cream, the remaining strips of jalapeno and chile pepper, and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and reduce by one-third, then pour over the steaks on their serving plates.

Serves four.

500BestSquareFresh Scallop Sashimi @ Wasabi

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In a sushi bar as good as this one, the best eats are likely to be found among the specials on the markerboard behind the bar. Someone here must love scallops, because on many occasions I’ve found fresh scallops–as in never frozen, never treated with that gunk that gives supermarket scallops their month-long shelf life. When eaten raw, the slightly sweet flavor and seawave aroma all but submerge you in the green-blue ocean. Get it as sashimi, and go easy on the soy sauce.

ScallopSashimi

Wasabi. Marigny: 900 Frenchmen. 504-943-9433.

||West End: 8550 Pontchartrain Blvd 504-267-3263. This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.

AlmanacSquare February 10, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–19
Valentine’s Day–6

Catfish Through History

The Treaty Of Paris, ending the French and Indian War, took effect today in 1763. Among its other effects, it created an international boundary between the British American colonies and Spanish Louisiana at Pass Manchac–where Middendorf’s is now. I wonder what the ordeal of getting a catfish through customs was like.

Annals Of Food Research

Ira Remson, one of two scientists who discovered saccharin, was born today in 1846. Saccharin gets a bad rap, I think. It’s the sweetest of all the common artificial sweeteners, and seems to do no harm to the body. Indeed, it appears that it goes right through you unchanged. It has an aftertaste, but the makers of Sweet-n-Low–the most widely marketed form of saccharin–balance it out with cream of tartar. That comes from wine. So you get a little wine in every pink packet.

Today’s Flavor

Andouille2It is National Andouille Day. Andouille is the finest form of smoked pork sausage. From the best butchers, it’s made with chunks of pork filled out with a little ground pork and pork fat, plus a spicy seasoning mix that also includes a distinct amount of garlic. The final element is smoke, which is applied about as heavily as a barbecue sausage would get. Andouille is thought of as Cajun and its name is French. But the part of Louisiana most famous for it–the River Parishes, between New Orleans and Baton Rouge–has a German heritage. I think that shows up in its texture.

Andouille is usually sliced into thick coins about a half-inch thick before it’s cast into the pot with the red beans, gumbo, or jambalaya (its favorite hangouts). It’s also delicious all by itself, grilled until the skin is crunchy and served with some Creole mustard on the side. The great andouille comes from Wayne Jacobs in Laplace, the capital of Andouille Land. Cochon and Creole Country also make superb versions. I find Richard’s the best of the supermarket brands.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Ricard is the brand name of an anise-flavored substitute for absinthe, brought into being after absinthe was banned in the early 1900s. Ricard is also a small town in upstate New York, halfway between Syracuse and Watertown, and ten miles east of the eastern shore of Lake Ontario. It’s entirely rural, with open fields interspersed by patches of woods. Beaverdam Brook flows through the crossroads community. The nearest restaurant of note is You Guys Place, four miles west in Altmar.

Edible Dictionary

sour mash, n.–Everybody who’s looked at the label on a bottle of Bourbon whiskey has seen the words “sour mash.” Instead of finding out what it is, the typical (and understandable) reaction is to shrug one’s shoulders, then knock back a shot of the stuff. Whiskey is made by fermenting grain (usually corn for Bourbon) with water and yeast. However, to keep the yeast and the process under control, some fermented grain from the most recent batch goes into the new batch. It’s similar to the practice of using some of yesterday’s yeast cake to begin a new batch for sourdough bread. The result is better consistency of flavor and the avoidance of off-flavors. People who learn this usually say “Hunh!” then forget about sour mash as they take another shot.

Dining Rule #382:

Never order a sausage in a strange place without first asking exactly what it is, or looking at it carefully. There is no worldwide body defining the contents of sausages.

Restaurant Namesakes

PlimsollToday is the birthday in 1824 of Samuel Plimsoll, for whom the Plimsoll Club is indirectly named. The club was near the top of the New Orleans World Trade Center at the foot of Canal Street for many years. It was originally a private club for people in maritime shipping. Enough special events have taken place in the Plimsoll Club’s dining rooms that many non-members have dined there. Its kitchen, while not what I’d call one of the best in town, was quite capable of putting on an exceptional dinner. The view through the big windows overlooking the bend in the river added to the specialness of the place. The Plimsoll Club’s logo is the mark (shown above) seen on the hulls of ships. It shows the lowest level the vessel can lie in the water, and therefore its maximum load-bearing capability. (The idea was the creation of Samuel Plimsoll.) The club is still in existence, with its facilities in the Westin Canal Place Hotel at the foot of Iberville. It still has a good view of the river from the eleventh floor.

Great Winemakers

Max Schubert was born on this day in 1905. He was the winemaker at Penfold’s in Australia who created the most famous of all Australian wines, Grange Hermitage (now called just “Grange”). He is also given credit for turning Australian wine from making things like sherry to the production of world-class table wines. So lift a glass of Shiraz to his memory today.

Music To Eat/Drink By

Alton Jay Rubin– better known as Rockin’ Dopsie, one of the fathers of Cajun zydeco music–was born today in 1932. Food connection: “zydeco” is a corruption of the first two words of the French verse “les haricots sont pas salés” (“the beans aren’t salty”). The line appears in some of the earliest songs in the zydeco style. He passed away in 1993, but his band, led by his son (who also calls himself Rockin’ Dopsie) is still performing actively.

The Andrews Sisters had a number one hit today in 1945 with Rum and Coca-Cola.

Food Namesakes

Two British writers had page one of their lives on this date: Charles Lamb in 1775, and James Suckling in 1609. . . Pro football player Joe Lavender hit the scrimmage line of life today in 1949.

Words To Eat By

GarlicHead“Pounding fragrant things–particularly garlic, basil, parsley –is a tremendous antidote to depression. But it applies also to juniper berries, coriander seeds and the grilled fruits of the chili pepper. Pounding these things produces an alteration in one’s being–from sighing with fatigue to inhaling with pleasure. The cheering effects of herbs and alliums cannot be too often reiterated. Virgil’s appetite was probably improved equally by pounding garlic as by eating it.”–Patience Gray.

Words To Drink By

“Brandy and water spoils two good things.”–Charles Lamb, English writer, born today in 1775.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Gourmet Hamburger.

How did it happen that America’s most popular dish triples and quadruples in price, without changing in any obvious way? Here’s how.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, February 4, 2017.
Have A Seat. The Best Use Of Jumbo Lump.

Mary Ann recognizes the importance of birthdays more than anyone I know–other than my big sister Judy, who to my knowledge has never failed to send a card to every birthday celebrant she knows, including even in-laws. Mary Ann’s list doesn’t spread as widely as that. But those who are close to her will find her arranging numerous special events for those in her inner circle. She attacks these with a sense of duty. In exchange, she expects a lot from her own birthdays, which usually are more like festivals than one-day-only specials.

This morning, she says that in honor of my birthday this Monday. she will break her fast with me at breakfast. We leave early in the day for Bella Luna, but not quite early enough. The person who arrived right before we did–at around seven-thirty–got the last open table.

I have the best breakfast item at Mattina Bella, one that rivals the best egg dishes in the most famous breakfast and lunch places. It’s the blue crab Benedict, made by poaching eggs and serving them on English muffins, covered with a very light hollandaise. What makes this special is the garnish of mushrooms and jumbo lump crabmeat. I see a lot of misuse of the expression “jumbo lump crabmeat,” much of which is not even close to that expensive gem of the kitchen. But here the crabmeat really does come out in lumps about the size of your fingertip. About the only way somebody could not like this dish is to have a dislike of crabmeat.

From this point, we head off on our errands. That for me involves three hours of radio on WWL. While I am so performing, the Marys have a scheme underway. Mary Ann knows from her time in radio that at the top of the hour I will get away from my desk to stretch my legs and get some water. I open the door and see, in the middle of our living room, a plump chair decorated with a wide assortment of circles. “Sit down in it!” Mary Ann commands. I do, and it leans back. Not like the duct-tape-covered chair sat in by Frasier’s father in the television show, but a very comfortable chair indeed, leaning well back.

Mary Ann knows that I have long wanted something like this. Her thought about the kind of chair put her in an “over my dead body” frame of mind. But while looking for something else, she saw this in a furniture store and decided it was just the right compromise. Ideal for me, acceptable to them. It only took twenty-seven years of aking for me to get either this or a big rocking chair. The perfect birthday gift. And I still have two more days before my day.

The Marys accompany me to dinner. Pardo’s is the venue, at Mary Ann’s suggestion. We improve our attack and wind up with the last open table in the house. I will continue this report as soon as I can find the photographs I took.

RecipeSquare-150x150

French-Fried Parsley

The Bitoun brothers–Jacques, Maurice, André, and Simon–ran a number of restaurants around the New Orleans area for many years, severally and in concert. Their best-remembered dish was a complimentary appetizer: a basket of fried parsley. Maurice called it “French popcorn.” It was much better than you could imagine, and intrigues everyone who eats it.

There are two tricks. First, this works better when the oil has been used previously, especially for fried chicken. Second, curly-l`eaf parsley is essential to holding the batter better.

  • 1 quart canola oil
  • 2 bunches curly-leaf parsley
  • 2/3 cup flour
  • 2 Tbs. salt-free Creole seasoning
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk

1. Heat the canola oil in a large saucepan to 350 degrees.

2. Wash the parsley well, and shake dry. Cut off the bottom parts of the stems.

3. Combine the flour, Creole seasoning, and salt in a bowl, blending it with a fork. Whisk the egg and the milk together in a second, much larger bowl. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, and whisk to make a thin batter. Add a little water if necessary to make the batter runny.

4. Toss the parsley around in the batter to coat. Shake off excess batter. Carefully drop the parsley into the hot oil and fry until it just begins to brown–less than a minute. Drain the oil from the parsley in a large strainer. Serve hot. Serve instantly.

Serves eight.

500BestSquareFried (Or Baked Or Stewed) Chicken @ Mr. Ed’s

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In the days before the fast-food places took over so many parts of our menu, fried chicken was considered a gourmet dish. It still is, really–if you can find a restaurant that still fries the chicken to order, seasons and coats it artfully, and serves it hot out of the fryer. Mr. Ed’s is a big neighborhood restaurant of the old school, and they fry chicken the old way, not so much as coating it until it’s ready to go into the fryer. Do not come in a hurry for this–it takes as much as a half-hour. Have one of their excellent soups while waiting. Or get the stewed chicken with brown gravy, or the baked chicken, both of which are delicious and cooked in advance.

FriedChicken

Mr. Ed’s. Metairie: 1001 Live Oak. 504-838-0022.

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

AlmanacSquare February 9, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–19
Valentine’s Day–6

Annals Of Chocolate

Today in 1894 the Hershey Chocolate Company was founded. Milton Hershey, who had been in the candy business for some time, started the company after a few less successful ventures. Chocolate makers in Europe are puzzled by the American taste for Hershey’s chocolate, which they find has a slight tang from sour milk. But we certainly love it. The history of Hershey (and his fierce competitor Forrest Mars) is the subject of the excellent book Emperors of Chocolate, by Joel Glenn Brenner.

Today’s Flavor

BagelToday is National Lox and Bagel Day, says the web rumor. The combination of silky smoked salmon with cream cheese on a well-made bagel is easy to get hooked on. It’s a filling repast. I can no longer eat even a whole bagel for breakfast and then have lunch–let alone one with salmon and cream cheese. But that doesn’t make it less of a pleasure.

“Lox” comes from the old German word for salmon. Similar words are found in all other Northern European languages. Strictly speaking, lox is not smoked but cured salmon. That’s certainly true of “belly lox.” However, that has given way in delis to Nova lox, for Nova Scotia, which once dominated the smoked salmon supply in Northeast America. Nova lox usually is less salty than belly lox, from being cured a shorter time in a milder brine solution.

Edible Dictionary

chapon salad, n.–A green salad with an up-front flavor and aroma of fresh garlic. The classic way this is imparted is by rubbing dry, crusty pieces of bread with garlic cloves, then adding the bread crusts to the salad when tossed. Sometimes the garlic cloves involved are used to wipe the inside of the salad bowl, releasing the garlic oil and further adding an assertive garlic character.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Eatonton is a town of 6500 people in central Georgia, seventy-seven miles southeast of Atlanta. It’s the seat of Putnam County. W. Truett Cathy, the founder of the Chick Fil-A fast food chain, was born here in 1921. Etonton was also the home town of two famous writers: Joel Chandler Harris (creator of Uncle Remus and Br’er Rabbit) and Alice Walker (The Color Purple). It’s named for William Eaton, the hero of the late-1700s war against the Barbary pirates. The place to eat (since there is no Chick Fil-A in Eatonton) is Hannah’s, right in the center of town.

Deft Dining Rule #691:

Hot lox–as in cut up and cooked into scrambled eggs, or with pasta–sounds better than it actually is. Heating salty foods makes them seem even saltier, and perhaps unpleasantly so.

Food In The Movies

It’s the birthday of Brazilian movie musical star Carmen Miranda, who is almost always depicted as wearing a hat made of bananas, mangoes, and other fresh tropical fruit. She was a hat designer before she became a star, and she made hats–always tall and showy–out of non-food items, too.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you wear clothing decorated with food designs, you will never splash sauce on it. (You may, however, stain it with wine or coffee (unless the article has a wine or coffee design). This does not apply to aprons, unfortunately. [I think the Old Kitchen Sage may still be hung over from the parades over the weekend.–Tom.]

Feminism In The Dining Room

Today in 1987, the Exchange Luncheon Club–the eatery for traders at the New York Stock Exchange–added a ladies’ rest room to its facilities. The funny thing is that the NYSE began allowing women on the floor about twenty years earlier. In the interim, it’s was sort of like it was in the old days at Galatoire’s: the women had to climb a flight of stairs if they went to the loo.

Chronicles Of Food Safety

The first fire extinguisher was patented today in 1863. Called the fire grenade, and it was very simple: you threw a bottle made of very thin glass and filled with salt water, into the fire, and out it went. You hoped. It made kitchens safer for frying soufflee potatoes. When’s the last time you checked the fire extinguisher in your kitchen? At the risk of sounding like the Reader’s Digest, you ought to check it once a month.

Food Namesakes

Dean Rusk, Secretary of State in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, was born today in 1909. (A rusk is that hard, dry piece of bread you find under eggs Benedict, among other places). . . Former Congressman Gary Franks was born today in 1953. . . Actor Joe Pesci was born today in 1943. (“Pesci” means “fish” in Italian.) . . . Chicago journalist, playwright, and humorist George Ade was born today in 1866.

Words To Eat By

“Protect your bagels, put lox on them.”–Sign at a bagel shop in New Haven, CT.

“A bagel creation that would have my parents turning over in their graves is the oat-bran bagel with blueberries and strawberries. It’s a bagel nightmare, an ill-conceived bagel form if there ever was one.”–Ed Levine, New York food writer and bagel commentator.

Words To Drink By

“When I drink, I think; and when I think, I drink.”–François Rabelais, French Renaissance writer and philosopher.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Classic Lobster-In-A-Restaurant Joke.

We must say that it has not appeared in quite a long time.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, January 30, 2017.
Incidental Dental. The Phone Crew Visits Yet Again.

I am in need of a dentist. I happened to pass near such an office a few weeks ago and saw that the dentist’s name was the same as that of the man who did my last dental renovation–in 1976. went inside, to find that the staff was on its lunch break. I fully endorse the idea of closing shop for lunch. I called the office later, and found that my long-ago dentist is indeed the father of the DDS whose name is on there now. I will see them this Friday.

I continued on to lunch at Pontchartrain Po-Boys, where I indulged in a large bowl of red beans and rice with hot sausage. The beans were nearly perfect, with the ideal texture and seasoning. It didn’t need Tabasco. The place was busy as always, with that St. Bernard Parish-style abundance in the servings.

This is the day when the phone company finally buried the cable that travels about a hundred yards from the roadside pedestal. The job was interrupted when one of my neighbors who use the Cool Water Ranch’s road to get to their houses came by right when the phone guy was in the middle of the road and couldn’t move easily. She tried to go around him but got stuck in the mud from the side of the road. But we knew that this would happen anyway.

After the cable project, the internet–which had run fine through the morning–went down again. We’ve now battled this defect for a full week. Another tech showed up to take fix it again. It’s nigh unto deranging my mind.

Fortunately, I have the relaxation and pleasure of singing with NPAS On Monday evening. That always calms me down.

Pontchartrain Po-Boys. Mandeville: 318 Dalwill Dr. 985-626-8188.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Oysters Suzette

Despite the name, this dish has nothing in common with crepes Suzette, the famous orange-flavored dessert. Instead, it is a savory, slightly smoky, piquant sauce, redolent of bell pepper, created by Count Arnaud Cazenave, founder of the 81-year-old restaurant that bears his name. It is my personal favorite of all the baked oyster dishes at Arnaud’s.

Oysters Arnaud, a five-oyster extravaganza. The Suzette is at four o'clock.

Oysters Arnaud, a five-oyster extravaganza. The Suzette is at four o’clock.

  • 24 large oysters
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 3 slices bacon, cut into small squares
  • 1 rib celery, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onion tops, chopped
  • 3 sprigs fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 cup pimientos, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne
  • 1 Tbs. brandy
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs

1. Bring two cups of water (oyster water, if you have it) to a light boil in a skillet. Poach the oysters for about 30 seconds. Drain the oysters and set aside to cool and dry. Strain the water from the pan and set aside.

2. In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter and add the bacon. Saute the bacon till nearly crisp. Add celery, green onion, parsley, pimientos and bay leaf. Cook for another three minutes, until vegetables are limp.

3. Add the water you poached the oysters in, along with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the brandy. Stir well, reduce to a simmer and cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed.

4. Add just enough bread crumbs to to make the sauce hold together. It is not necessary to use the entire quantity.

5. Place the oysters in either clean oyster shells or au gratin dishes. Top each oyster with about a tablespoon of sauce. Sprinkle a pinch of bread crumbs over each oyster.

6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until top of sauce is toasty and slightly crusty.

Serve very hot, with a warning that the sauce can burn the roof of the mouth if eaten injudiciously!

Serves four to six.

500BestSquareChocolate Mousse With Brown-Buttered Pecans @ Cafe B

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A well-made chocolate mousse is such a great dessert that adding extras to it beyond simple garnishes like fresh berries usually makes it less delicious, not more. Here is a counter-example. The mousse itself is dark, almost bitter chocolate. The pecans also have a little bitterness. But all that is balanced by the sugar in the mousse and a shingle of chocolate brittle stuck into the moussey mass. Chocolate-heads will love this.

Cafe B's dining room.

Cafe B’s dining room.

Cafe B. Old Metairie: 2700 Metairie Road. 504-934-4700.

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

AlmanacSquare February 2, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–26
Valentine’s Day–12

Famous New Orleans Food Figures

Al Copeland, the creator of Popeyes Fried Chicken and the Copeland’s restaurants, was born today in 1944. Without having graduated from high school, he worked in his brother’s doughnut stand until he went out on his own in 1972 with the first Popeyes stand, in Arabi. It looked more or less the way Popeyes did for decades after. He had many other things right from the beginning, most notably the red-pepper-based seasoning that made Popeyes distinctive. Popeyes was a tremendous success, and Copeland used that success to get into many other activities–some successful. some disastrous. He opened the first Copeland’s in 1985, which was so good and so far ahead of its time that it established Copeland’s reputation as having had a golden palate. Ironically, he died from a rare cancer of the salivary glands in 2008. A fascinating man.

Observances

GroundhogIt’s Groundhog Day, the approximate midpoint of winter. There are six more weeks of winter, no matter how an animal’s shadow registers with him. While I was in evacuation in the Washington, DC area, I lived for a month in the basement of my wife’s sister’s mother-in-law, finishing my cookbook. One morning several groundhogs were walking around her yard, occasionally standing up. “They dig under the fence to get the apples that fall from the trees,” she said. I’d never seen a groundhog before. They were bigger than I thought–twice the size of my fattest cat. I’d say they weighed thirty or forty pounds. They were so wary that you couldn’t even enter the yard without scaring them off. I could see how they’d be afraid of their own shadows.

Some people catch and cook groundhogs, usually into a stew. They have scent glands that may daunt anyone who may be uncertain about this idea to begin with. I hear they taste a lot like possum, but having eaten that before I can’t accept it as a recommendation.

A groundhog is the same animal as a woodchuck, which reminds me of a Latin maxim: “Quantum materiae materietur marmota monax si marmota monax materiam possit materiari?” (“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”)

The Fortieth Day Of Christmas

Today is Candlemas, the last gasp of the Christmas season. It’s forty days since December 25, and according to the Jewish laws of purification, Mary would have presented herself and Jesus at the temple–if Jesus had actually been born on December 25. But the chances of that are 365 to 1. Oddly, the lore about Candlemas is similar to that of Groundhog Day. If it’s a mild day today, then winter has more to throw at us. If it’s a stormy day, then winter is almost over.

Today’s Flavor

Today, we hear, is Heavenly Hash Day. “Heavenly hash” has two meanings. In most of America, it’s a sort of trifle, with pineapple, cherries, nuts, and marshmallows suspended in whipping cream and rice. Around New Orleans, however, when you say those words you mean the concoction of dark chocolate, marshmallows, and almonds famously marketed by the candy shop at the old D.H. Holmes and, more commercially, by Elmer’s.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Eaton is a rural crossroads in the northeast corner of Arkansas, 112 miles northwest of Memphis, Tennessee. The rolling land is about equally divided between farm acreage and woods. Two branches of Cypress Creek drain the land as they head towards the Mississippi. The nearest source of eatin’ to Eaton is the Sportsman’s Grill, three miles away in Lynn.

Edible Dictionary

almond paste, n.–Although this seems to require no explanation, there’s more to it than meets the eye. It is indeed almonds ground into a smooth, spreadable consistency, it also contain sugar, water, and sometimes glycerin and almond extract to enhance its texture and flavor. Almond paste is a major ingredient in baking, particularly in France. It’s used in almond croissants and cookies. Almond paste is also the heart of marzipan, used widely for cake decoration. The most opulent use of almond paste is in “gateau du roi”–the king cake, made in Northern France and Belgium to celebrate the Epiphany. It’s nothing like the New Orleans king cake, even though its significance on the calendar is identical.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

To remove the skin from whole almonds, simmer them for about four minutes. Let them cool, then squeeze them like a crawfish tail. The meat pops right out of the skin. Then it’s a good idea to toast them for ten to twelve minutes at 300 degrees. Watch to make sure they don’t burn.

Food Inventions

Crown cap and opener.The crown bottle cap was patented on this date in 1892, by William Painter. Most widely used on returnable soft drink and longneck beer bottles, the crown cap (upside down, it looks like a crown) required either the blunt end of a churchkey, one of those wall-mounted openers that probably said “Coca-Cola,” or a good set of teeth to remove. Until the mid-1960s, the seal was made hermetic with a thin layer of cork. It was replaced by the thin layer of plastic that’s still used today. Crown caps are universally used on Champagne bottles during the lengthy period when the wine is resting on its yeasts.

The ice cream scoop that’s still in common use today was invented on this date in 1897 by Alfred Cralle, of Pittsburgh. His insight was that a scoop with a nearly-round bowl shape and a knife-like leading edges would scoop up a ball of ice cream.

Food And Media

Ina Garten, who hosts the television food program The Barefoot Contessa, was born today in 1948. After working in nuclear politics for two presidents, she opened a gourmet shop (also called Barefoot Contessa) in the Hamptons. Everything she did after that increased her fame.

Deft Dining Rule #215:

Almost all restaurants will let you bring in your own wines, but most will charge you a corkage fee. If you try to avoid this, the staff will pick you up on their unerring radar and give you less good food and service all night long.

Food Through History

Prince Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, one of the most avid gourmets in French history, was born on this date in 1754. He was so astute a statesman that he managed to remain prominent and active through the French Revolution, into the Restoration, and even into the reign of Napoleon. In his home he employed a seminal chef of classical French cuisine, Antonin Careme. Talleyrand-Perigord set a standard for grand dining with his banquet menu. It started with two soups, was followed by two seafood courses, then four varied entrees of meats and birds, then two large roasts, followed by four sweet courses and one of cheese.

Annals Of Winemaking

The first bottle of wine made from grapes grown in South Africa was produced today in 1659. The maker was Jan Van Riebeeck, the founder of Cape Town. It was a Shiraz-Charbono blend. (No, it wasn’t.)

Food Namesakes

Former U.S. Congressman from New Jersey Joshua S. Salmon was born today in 1846. . . Rock guitarist Alan “Tea” Caddy was born today in 1940. . . British model Michelle Bass hit the Big Runway today in 1981. (Not you, Michelle.)

Words To Eat And Drink By

“People are getting really baroque with their perversions.”–Texas food writer Alison Cook, on fajitas marinated in a blend of Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper.

“Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love. . . As soon as coffee is in your stomach, there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move. . . similes arise, the paper is covered. Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.”–Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, whose birthday it is today.

FoodFunniesSquare

Non-Continuous Restaurants.

Sometimes, a new restaurant that doesn’t make it regroups and becomes successful again. Or perhaps another failure.

Click here for the cartoon.

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DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Sunday, January 29, 2017.
Brunching In The Sunshine.

Mary Ann awakens with a plan from some of our friends: let’s all have Sunday brunch at Broussard’s. Sounds good to me. We go in separate cars for some reason. En route I listen to a 1950s CBS radio broadcast of an innocent show called “The Couple Next Door.” It’s entertaining, but in a pathetic sort of way.

I’m somewhat of a student of the history of this kind of radio. But it’s easy to understand why the advent of television almost completely wiped out radio drama, comedy, and variety shows. They’re lame, even by the standards of the 1950s. This one is a sitcom, with the man in the couple being a moronic ninny while his wife comes across as marginally intelligent, but with better sense than her husband.

Our table at Broussard’s is bigger than I expected. Most of these folks are family of friends from our kids’ elementary school days. Everybody here is a joker, and we laugh continually as the eggs and flaming desserts keep on coming.

MA and I have liked the brunch at Broussard’s since it was inaugurated by the current owners, Creole Culinary Concepts. That outfit started out with small restaurants scattered around the French Quarter. Broussard’s is a substantial leap forward. It’s a certified Grand Dame restaurant, dating back to 1924. The new owners had a tough time with it at first, but every meal I’ve taken here in the past two or three years has been excellent.

broussards-creolespinachsalad

And so is this one. I begin with turtle soup of the kind I like best: dark roux, actual turtle meat, well seasoned. Then Caribbean sunrise, a poached egg dish with crab cakes, black beans, and hollandaise. It looks better than it sounds, but it looks very appetizing. Mary Ann starts by eating the uniquely crafted bread here, which is made to look like blown-up wheat grains. She loves this bread and always eats too much of it, or so she says. Her entree is a a spinach salad with fried oysters. The diet goes on.

And then the jazz trio picks me out of the crowd. Would I like to perform a song with them? I thought they’d never ask. My usual sing: Sweet Lorraine. I know too many people at this table for them not to razz me. However, nobody give the jeer: “Keep your day job!” Ha. Ha. Ha.

Here’s the status of the telephone company matter. My phone is back on, and my internet is restored. But the television part of our package is not there. I call them and they mess with the unit for a little while, before telling me that a tech will come out this week.

Broussard’s. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Pastry Cream

Pastry cream is the made-from-scratch version of the canned Bavarian cream gunk you find in doughnuts and eclairs from most bakeries. It’s not difficult to make, except in one particular: it must be cooled very rapidly after you’re finished making it, because it’s highly prone to bacteria-caused spoilage. So follow Step Four to the letter.

  • 1 quart milk
  • 4 Tbs. cornstarch
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 1 cup sugar

1. In a bowl, dissolve the cornstarch into 1 cup of milk. Beat the eggs and stir into the milk-cornstarch mixture. Stir in the vanilla.

2. In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the remaining milk with the butter and sugar and bring it to a boil.

3. Whisk the reserved cornstarch-milk-egg mixture into the boiling milk. Continue whisking energetically until it returns to a boil and thickens. Remove from the heat, and keep whisking for another minute.

4. It is very important to cool the mixture as rapidly as possible. The best method is to spread it out on a clean metal sheet pan, cover it with plastic wrap, and put it into the coldest part of the refrigerator. Keep refrigerated until ready to use.

Makes about a quart.

500BestSquareChoriqueso @ La Carreta

DishStars_3
This is a big, rich Tex-Mex appetizer I’ve seen under many names over the years. The name they use at La Carreta is just “chorizo” and “queso” shoved together. So, Mexican hot sausage, broken up and stirred into hot, thick, liquefied cheese. They serve this with a pile of flour tortillas and pico de gallo. You could scoop it up, but I find it better spooned into one of the tortillas then rolled up. It’s a cheap thrill, but a thrill nevertheless. Great with a cold Negro Modelo.

Choriqueso would be good in an omelette.

Choriqueso would be good in an omelette.

La Carreta. Mandeville: 1200 W Causeway Approach. 985-624-2990.

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

AlmanacSquare February 1, 2017

Days Until. . .

Mardi Gras–27
Valentine’s Day–13

Eating Across America

GrandCentralStation

Grand Central Station in New York City opened today in 1913. At the time, it was the largest train station in the world. It’s still a grand place, and if you ever show up there hungry go down below to the Oyster Bar and Restaurant, a fixture in the station for decades. The Oyster Bar’s vaulted tile ceilings make for a unique environment. Last time I was there (September 2006), I counted thirty different kinds of oysters available. None from Louisiana–boooo! The prices–a buck and a half to two dollars per oyster–are shocking to us Orleanians. They’re well past $3 each now.

Celebrity Chefs Today

In 1982, former Ma Maison chef Wolfgang Puck opened Spago in Los Angeles, starting any number of trends that can be seen in restaurants all over the country, including here. Spago made pizza glamorous, for example. My wife, my son and his wife all love going there as much for the chicness of the place as for the food. Which is good, but less than mind-blowing. Meanwhile, Puck now has countless restaurants bearing his name around the country, no small number of which are convenience cafes in places like airports.

Today’s Flavor

RutabagaDon’t be frightened by this, but it’s Rutabaga Day. Rutabagas are among the most misunderstood and underrated vegetables in this country. It’s a cross between the turnip and a variety of wild cabbage. It has been raised for food since at least the 1600s. It’s always been popular in Scandinavia. For that reason, the name for the vegetable in Great Britain is “swede.” I encountered that word on a trip to England a couple of years ago, when I bought a Cornish pasty stuffed with swede/rutabagas.

Rutabagas look like turnips, but are bigger and lack the sharp turnip flavor. They’re much starchier, too, and can be used in almost any recipe you’d use for potatoes. The color of the flesh is a bright yellow-orange. When mashed, it looks a bit like sweet potatoes. My own favorite use for rutabagas is to slice them and bake them with cream, cheese, butter, garlic and bread crumbs as a gratin. Great side vegetable with almost anything.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Be sure to peel rutabagas before cooking them. They’re usually coated with a wax to keep them from going soft too soon after harvest. They should be very firm.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Crawfish Branch, Kentucky is at the intersection of Crawfish Branch Road and Crawfish Cemetery Road. Thinking about who or what may be buried in Crawfish Cemetery intrigues the mind. Are there crawfish chimneys there? Any really big ones made of stone? The place is in the hills on the west slope of the Appalachians, in the center of the state, not close to any major cities. Most of the nearby restaurants are fast-food places, but Lee’s Famous Recipe Chicken, a mile away in Manchester, sounds edible.

Deft Dining Rule #534:

The idea that little towns in the middle of nowhere always have a great little cafe with home cooking is only a romantic myth.

Edible Dictionary

subgum, Chinese, adj.–When the word subgum appears in the description of a dish, you may expect to find several kinds of vegetables and proteins mixed together on the plate. Since a very large number of Chinese dishes have that characteristic, this is a word not seen as often as it once was. Another factor in is current de-emphasis is that it was most common in Cantonese-style restaurants, which have gone out of vogue. Still, a subgum vegetable and noodle dish with chicken, pork, shrimp or perhaps all three can be good.

Restaurants Through History

Today in 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina, four black college students stopped at a Woolworth’s to buy school supplies. They wanted to have coffee at the lunch counter, but were told that it was white-only and were refused service. They sat there until the counter closed. Their action started a movement, and sit-ins began occurring at other white lunch counters throughout the South.

World Records In Food

A Cuban cow by the name of Ubre Blanca was milked on this day in 1982 and delivered 28 gallons of milk–a record. That’s nearly four times what the typical cow produces. Imagine the flan you could make with that!

Perhaps the achievement of Ubre Blanca occurred through the intercession of St. Brigid of Ireland, whose feast day it is today. She is the patron saint of milkmaids, and anyone who works in any part of the dairy industry.

Regional Culinary Differences

Today in 1939, a Maine assemblyman named Seeder introduced a bill in the legislature banning the use of tomatoes in clam chowder. You know, of course, that New England clam chowder is made with milk or cream, and that Manhattan clam chowder has tomatoes. James Beard said that the latter was like “vegetable soup with some clams dumped into it.” Here in New Orleans, we don’t care one way or another, because we don’t like clams.

Food And Drink Namesakes

Sir Edward Coke was born today in 1552. He was a lawyer whose ideas about the supremacy of the common law of the people over the whims of the king gave shape to the British legal system. . . Hattie Caraway, the first elected female U.S. Senator, was born today in 1878. . . Canadian hockey player and coach Mike Kitchen was born today in 1956. . . Outfielder Zack Wheat was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame today in 1959.

Words To Eat By

“To me, an airplane is a great place to diet.”–Wolfgang Puck.

“Plain cooking cannot be trusted to plain cooks.”–Countess Marcelle Morphy, British cookbook author in the 1930s, reputed to be a native of New Orleans.

Words To Drink By

“A good general rule is to state that the bouquet is better than the taste, and vice versa.”–English writer Stephen Potter, speaking of wine. He was born today in 1900.

FoodFunniesSquare

Looking For Unusual Species Of Local Seafood.

We find unexpected treasure. But who could bring himself to eat this fish?

Click here for the cartoon.