DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, June 12, 2017.
Serious Red Beans And Rice.

MA is busy getting the radio show pulled together for the days she will be hosting it, as well as to line up guests for the fill-in hosts. I’m sure glad she takes care of these matters.

I go to Abita Roaster for lunch. They get my current first-place award for red beans and rice these days. The beans are of perfect texture and seasoning. The hot sausage comes in an extra-wide pattie, just peppery enough, carrying the rich amount of rendered red fat. The deal also comes with a corn pancake. Like a regular pancake, but with the texture of cornbread as opposed to biscuits.

I stay home for the radio show, because that’s what I do on Mondays, with or without a chorus rehearsal.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017.
Caribbean Room News. Down The Bayou.

I don’t know whether this is an encouraging sign, but during the past twenty-four hours, three people told me that they went to the Caribbean Room in the refurbished Pontchartrain Hotel, and found it excellent. That is not what I had been hearing and experiencing myself a few months ago. Maybe it’s time for me to revisit the revived classic.

Perhaps even more encouraging is that all three of the people who say they liked the food at the C-Room mentioned the fact that jackets are required for gentlemen diners there. They seemed to find that enjoyable. Now we’re getting somewhere!

I think about going there tonight myself. But it’s Tuesday, and I don’t think they have live music that night. I think about other possibilities for dinner. The Upperline? Closed on Tuesdays. A few other places with comparable problems. Then calls Mary Ann, who thinks that DTB–a new restaurant on the Oak Street strip in the Riverbend–is a place we ought to visit. If I were without the Marys to push me along, I would have rejected the place as too new. But they love brand-new eateries, and suddenly there we are, after I hold down the table for a half-hour while ML changes clothes.

One other aspect of DTB (“down the bayou”) that softens my thoughts is its proximity to a neighborhood where I lived and worked for three or four years in my young twenties. It’s a block and a half from Time Saver #1, where I worked for nine years during high school and college, before leaving for the newspaper business, for which I began writing restaurant reviews in 1972. Most memorable Time Saver #1 moment: being held up by a man with a gun. He beat up my co-worker pretty badly. I stepped up just as the robber and his accomplice made for the exit. He didn’t touch me. I got a good look at the gun. I think it was a toy.

The arrival of the Marys knocks that reverie out of my mind. I greet them with a batch of hand-cut fries, our standard appetizer when the three of us are dining out. The menu and the kitchen are ready for orders like that, and we keep on ordering. Fried cornbread (like hush puppies). Roasted asparagus with green beans, all cut into unidentifiable pieces, but remain good anyway. A new approach to Drago’s-style char-broiled oysters has the same ingredients baked in a gratin dish. A duck confit that MA orders. She has a new hunger for duck these days. Fried catfish in classic style, very generous and just right.

I’m glad to have found out about this place, which seems to have its act very much together. MA loves the environment, which is decked with industrial-strength flooring, window coverings, and ceilings. It’s not loud, even though it was full during most of our time there.

Halfway through, the man who served my sister Lynn and I a couple of weeks ago at Cavan walks up to the table. I recognize him immediately: he has an accent from his homeland Lithuania. I also remember his name easily: Tomas. He says that he liked what I said about him in a Dining Diary piece last week. He doesn’t work here at DTB, but is just having dinner. As he leaves, I tell him good-bye in Russian. I took that language for two years at UNO, and don’t remember much of it. Luckily, Vladimir Putin doesn’t come up in the conversation.

I later learn that DTB (whose sub-name is Social House,) was assembled by a group of chefs, cocktail experts, sommeliers and dessert specialists. Most of them learned their strokes at Commander’s Palace or other restaurants allied with it. That’s not a bad point from which to branch out.

DTB Social House. Riverbend: 8201 Oak St. 504-518-6889.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Brandied Fruit Thaïs

When Brennan’s invented bananas Foster and got everybody talking about it, other restaurants reacted in two ways. First, they came up with new flaming fruit desserts with ice cream. Later, they just began serving bananas Foster. If a restaurant did both things, the dessert in step one often disappeared. That happened to this great creation of the Pontchartrain Hotel’s Caribbean Room. It’s a collection of juicy fruits (and bananas), sprinkled with brown sugar and flamed with brandy. The added touch of topping it with crumbled macaroon cookies and almonds made it both unique and spectacular. I think the problem with it was that it was too big to serve at just one table, and it wound up in the C-Room’s banquet repertoire.

Brandied fruit salad Thais.

The dish is named for the Massenet opera of the same name, or perhaps for the original book by Anatole France. Classy restaurants often made literary references in those days.

  • 2 peaches or nectarines, or 8 apricots
  • 2 ripe pears
  • 1/2 of a whole fresh pineapple, cored
  • 1 slightly underripe banana
  • 1 cup pitted and halved fresh Bing or Raniere cherries (about 15 of them)
  • 1/2 cup amontillado or fino sherry
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 4 oz. slivered almonds
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter
  • 2 cups of crumbled coconut macaroon cookies or almond cookies
  • 1 1/2 oz. brandy
  • 1 quart vanilla ice cream

1. Peel the peaches or nectarines or apricots and the pineapple, and cut it into dice the size that come with your Monopoly set. Slice the bananas about a quarter-inch thick.

2. Put all the fruits into a two-quart non-metallic baking dish. Pour the sherry over the fruits. Cover and marinate for two to four hours. Don’t refrigerate.

3. About a half-hour before you’re ready to serve, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the brown sugar, almonds, and half of the crushed cookies to the fruit. Cut the butter into chips and add. With a big spoon, lightly toss the contents of the dish.

4. Top the fruit mixture with the remaining cookie crumbs. Put the baking dish into the 350-degree oven, uncovered, and bake for 12-15 minutes, until the top is browned.

5. At the table, pour the brandy over the hot fruit and touch a flame to it. (Be careful that nothing overhead is inflammable. Don’t flame if you don’t feel safe about it.) Spoon the fruit over scoops of ice cream and serve.

Serves 12-16.

500BestSquareDouble-Cut Pork Chop @ Rue 127

DishStars-4
My favorite entree at this compact but excellent Mid-City bistro is a thick slab of bone-in pork loin. The menu makes no claim for its source–it’s not from a Mangalitsa or Kurabuta pig. It’s lean and beautifully trimmed. Yet it lacks nothing in its flavor. Could win against the pedigreed chops in a blind tasting. I suspect it may be brined (a good thing). The sauce is made with whiskey and roasted peppers, with corn coush-coush (pudding) on the side. Finally, they have the good sense to leave it a little pink in the middle (which the USDA has declared is perfectly safe).

Rue127-PorkChop-20110618_73

Rue 127. Mid-City: 127 N Carrollton Ave. 504-483-1571.

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

AlmanacSquare June 16, 2017

Days Until. . .
Father’s Day 3

Food Calendar

This is International Chorizo Day. Chorizo is a dense pork sausage made in Spain and Portugal, as well is most of the former colonies of those two countries. The pork is chopped and packed with a visible amount of fat, along with seasonings. Smoked paprika is one of the major spices, which give the sausage a little piquancy and a red color. Most Spanish chorizo is cured and smoked, and can be eaten as is. In this part of the world, however, there’s another kind: chorizo fresca. This must be cooked before being eaten. Chefs are finding more uses for both kinds of chorizo in their cookery. It’s good almost any way its used: with eggs, as a seasoning meat, in a salad, with mussels, or as tapas. A restaurant that takes chorizo seriously may have several varieties of the sausage.

Today is also allegedly National Fudge Day. Oh, fudge. We had a wonderful dog once named Fudge. My mother made a super-sweet fudge which was one of the few things she cooked that I never liked. That’s all I’ve got.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Egg Bend, Louisiana is on a large loop in the Red River, twenty-four miles southeast of Alexandria, in Avoyelles Parish. The community is right on the river’s levee. It’s a small farming village on the old, winding LA Highway 1, before that highway was straightened many years ago. The nearest place to eat is B’s Diner, up LA 1 two miles. But the real action is in Marksville, seven miles downstream.

Edible Dictionary

plate, n.–A cut of beef adjacent to the lower end of the ribs. It’s between the brisket and the flank. The word “plate” is used much more by butchers than by consumers. You will not often see the expression on the label of a package of beef. It has a lot of fat on both sides and a good deal of connective tissue too. It’s a job to trim it down to remove all the chewy parts. What comes out of that effort is good indeed. Pastrami made in the traditional way uses meat from the front part of the plate. The skirt steak, which has become very popular because of the demand for fajitas, has really put the plate to work. The whole thing can be braised to good effect for stews.

Annals Of Junk Food

Today in 1903, the Patent Office granted a trademark for Pepsi-Cola. It’s named for pepsin (an enzyme that was supposed to help digestion) and the kola nut, which supplied not only a distinctive flavor but also caffeine. The formula also included vanillin and fruit extracts. Pharmacist Caleb D. Bradham was its creator; like most druggists, he had a soda fountain in his establishment.

Today is the birthday (1893!) of Cracker Jack. The achievement of its creator R.W. Rueckheim was to coat popcorn and peanuts with caramel in such a way that they wouldn’t stick together. The name was slang of the time for something that would be called “awesome” today. Sailor Jack and his dog Bingo were on the box from the beginning.

Food In Literature

This is Bloomsday, so called by avid fans of James Joyce’s landmark novel Ulysses. The peripatetic wanderings of Leopold Bloom and the other characters in the book begin on this day and end the next. Much food and wine is consumed along the way. I once made the mistake of trying to listen to an audiobook of Ulysses, and found it impossible. Fortunately, I have the actual book, which I should have read in college. Someday I will finally get around to reading it, and turning in my report to the professor in hopes of having that D reversed.

Food And The Environment

Archie Fairley Carr, a marine biologist, was born today in 1909. He spent much of his career studying sea turtles, and as a result discovered why their numbers were decreasing so rapidly. His work had two results: we no longer use green sea turtles for turtle soup (as we did as recently as the 1980s), and the turtle populations are beginning to rebound, leaving them free to get covered with BP oil.

Food In The Movies

The movie Grease premiered today in 1978, with John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John. Not the kind of grease we encounter in culinary work. But it gives me an opening to bring up a usage matter. “Grease” is an ugly word to use when talking about food. My skin crawls when I hear a cook saying something like, “Then you put the soft shell crabs into the hot grease. . .” To me, the only acceptable uses of the word are in a pejorative context, as in “The pot of chili had a half-inch-deep layer of orange grease floating on top.” Let’s eliminate “grease” from the language of fine cooking.

Deft Dining Rule #183

Restaurants that use the word “grease” in their descriptions of their food are very likely to serve greasy food.

Food Namesakes

Jim Dine, a major force in Pop Art, made his first strokes today in 1938. . . August Busch III, the boss of Anheuser-Busch, the country’s biggest brewer of beer, showed his head today in 1940. . . Novelist Joyce Carol Oates made her first statement today in 1941. I’ve read many of her short stories, but never her big works, like The Time Traveler. Any good?. . . The Dan Quayle Vice-Presidential Center and Musuem opened today in 1993, in Huntington, Indiana.

Words To Eat By

“Always serve too much hot fudge sauce on hot fudge sundaes. It makes people overjoyed, and puts them in your debt.”–Judith Olney, food writer.

“I know my corn plants intimately, and I find it a great pleasure to know them.”–Barbara McClintock, American botanist, born today in 1902.

Words To Drink By

“I’m going to be around until the Atomic Energy Commission finds a safe place to bury my liver.”–Phil Harris, comedian and musician, and early king of Bacchus. The AEC must have found the spot in 1995.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Difference Between Pork And Beef.

The beef, one might imagine, is more refined between the grazing grass and the poor boy sandwich.

Click here for the cartoon.

####

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Saturday, June 10, 2017.
Timberrrr! Lost Tickets And Laptop.

A couple of days ago, the St. Tammany Parish department that takes care of fallen or threatening trees came to the Cool Water Ranch and dropped a big, dead tree into the most tangled part of the Ranch’s overgrowth. They hauled out all the segments of the tree, even though I told them they could just leave them there. It’s amazing how quickly a tree disappears once it’s on the ground.

Today, I followed the fence line through the property. I am happy to find that the lumberjacks pushed the fence back into place. I found nary a spot that will let the dogs escape.

Best development: since the tree was between a road and a ditch, all this was done for free. Last time I had to pull down a threatening tree, it was in the middle of the property and I had to pay $850 for the service.

I’m beginning to get ready for my trip to Los Angeles next week, getting my clothes together and jobs done. Already two distress alarms have gone up. The laptop computer I bought a bit over a year ago is not functioning in any way. You turn it on, and it starts screaming. This leaves me with my slow, old laptop to keep my columns going while I’m at son Jude’s house for eight days.

I printed out my Amtrak tickets months ago when I reserved the sleeper, but I don’t know what I did with them. No big problem, hope. I can print out another set, or pick them up at the station. Still, a touch of stress is added to the trip.

I’m on the radio from three until six today, which makes it impossible to rendezvous with the Marys for lunch-supper. I almost chuckled that they will have to get along without me at La Carreta. I don’t need to eat, anyway, because I had a big breakfast at the Fat Spoon in the late morning.

It looks as though I can cut the grass after the radio show ends, and as the sun starts declining. Almost as soon as that happens, a thunderstorm emerges behind a tree and continues to dump rain until the lawn is ready to get my tractor stuck in the mud.

In other words, it’s a pretty dull day.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Sunday, June 11, 2017.
Motown Finale. They Do Without Me. Wonder Woman.

Today was to have been the final NPAS performance for this year’s season. I thought I could attend, but the radio show ran late enough to make that impossible. I hope nobody notices my absence. What ever will I do on Mondays for the next couple of months?

Mary Ann says she would like to go to the movies tonight. She’s heard that the new Wonder Woman movie is pretty good. But it is preceded by a bunch of previews with dystopian themes. If there is a current film trend I hope never to support, it’s these end-of-the-world movies. Could it be that they hit too close to home?

Wonder Woman also begins with a war. Mary Ann wants to leave, but I hold on a little longer, as Wonder Woman herself swings into action. And then we did leave, MA getting her money back. This is the third time I’ve seen her do this. But she tells me that the movie was just starting to get good. Also that she thinks Wonder Woman is really beautiful. I can see that. . .and also that she and MA have similarities in their looks. This WW is too thin for my tastes, but never mind. I recall reading Wonder Woman comic books among the Bat Man, the Flash, Superman, and Superboy books from when I was that young age (comic books were ten cents then!). I always wondered why Wonder Woman’s uniform left her close to naked. I’m still an little uneasy about that.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Monday, June 12, 2017.
End Of Daily Rhythm, But Red Beans Are Great.

I go to Abita Roaster for lunch. They get my current first-place award for red beans and rice these days. The beans are of perfect texture and seasoning. The hot sausage comes in an extra-wide pattie, just peppery enough, carrying the rich amount of rendered red fat. The deal also comes with a corn pancake. Like a regular pancake, but with the texture of cornbread as opposed to biscuits.

The radio show comes from my home office, as it always does on Mondays. It already feels funny that I don’t have a chorus rehearsal tonight. What will I do with myself? Oddly, I have been watching movies. Mary Ann and I both have a taste for classics. Todnight we watch a really good one: “Love In The Afternoon,” featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gary Cooper. It has one of the best endings I’ve ever seen on film. But I am uneasy with the idea of young girl with older man. They didn’t seem to worry about that in the 1950s. Women don’t put up with that anymore, seems to me, and I can’t blame them.

500BestSquareVichyssoise @ Antoine’s

DishStars_3
The cold potato-and-leek soup that’s considered a French bistro classic is hard to find these days. The last restaurant that offered it on a regular basis is Antoine’s. Even there you can’t always find it on the menu, not even in the ninety-plus-degrees we must suffer through for the next three or four months.


As much as I love Antoine’s, it has ceased to serve vichyssoise the way it once did. In the glory age, the soup came out in a cup resting on a bed of ice held up by an ornate utensil used for nothing else. Fortunately, the flavor remains appealing. This was an unusually rich version of the soup, including a bit of sour cream in the recipe. A little bit of blue cheese crumbled over the top adds further deliciousness. Vichyssoise was for a time a victim of the paring-down of Antoine’s formerly 130-dish-plus menu following Katrina. But they haven’t forgotten it. It’s currently on the new summer lunch menu.

Antoine’s. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422.

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

RecipeSquare-150x150

Red Pepper Vichyssoise

Vichyssoise, despite the French name, was invented in America, at a New York French restaurant. Another surprise (to me, anyway): all the versions of vichyssoise I’ve ever loved had ham in the recipe, although not visibly in the soup.

Classic vichyssoise is a cold leek-and-potato soup. But we don’t always have to do the classics. The late Chef Tom Cowman used to do variations with watercress, bell peppers, and other colorful infusions when he was at Restaurant Jonathan and, later, the Upperline. That idea inspires this recipe.

  • 2 lbs. white potatoes
  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1 leek, white part only, well washed
  • 1/3 cup finely-chopped ham
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 1 pint half-and-half
  • 2 oz. sour cream
  • Snipped chives for garnish

1. Prepare the vegetables carefully. Leave no peel or spots on the potatoes, seeds or membranes in the pepper, or dirt in the leeks. Cube the potatoes and chop the pepper and leek.

2. Bring the stock to a light boil and cook the vegetables with the ham until the potatoes are soft–about 25 minutes.

3. Pour the pot contents into a food processor and puree. Then push the puree through a strainer or a food mill.

4. Heat the half-and-half in the microwave oven on high for two and a half minutes. Stir it into the soup. Whisk in the sour cream, then refrigerate the soup.
Serve chilled, garnished with chives.
Serves four to six.

AlmanacSquare June 15, 2017

Days Until. . .

Father’s Day 3

Food Calendar

ConchIn Key West, it’s Conch Fritter Day. Conch is a highly local ingredient, not found often outside Florida. It’s the meat of the animal whose shell lets you hear the ocean waves when you put it up to your ear. It’s notoriously tough, and a predator on oysters. (For that reason, I hold some animus against conchs.)

It’s also National Arugula Day. Arugula is a weed, really, and for my money it’s the most delicious weed there is. It grows wild all around the Mediterranean, and has been eaten since time immemorial by people from the Riviera to Sudan. (Interesting that the impoverished people of Sudan may well be eating the same thing that the wealthiest people in America’s most expensive restaurants, at the same time.)

In 1988 I was in a hotel in Udine, Italy with a group of Italian-American restaurateurs. We were to have a lunch in the hotel. I went down to the lobby and entered the restaurant. Just inside the door was a gigantic glass bowl filled with arugula leaves. My only thought was of how fine a meal it would be to have nothing but that, olive oil, a little balsamic vinegar, and chunks of Parmigiana cheese on the side. I was very disappointed when the maitre d’ pointed me to the banquet room where the lunch was to take place. (Fortunately, we had a little arugula.)

You can grow your own arugula, but since it’s only good when the leaves are small you have to constantly plant it to have fresh young leaves constantly. (The big ones taste strong, in the direction of horseradish.) Unfortunately, it is not nearly available enough in markets. Arugula also goes under the names “rocket” and “rouquette” and “rucola.” How about a big salad bowl of it right now with a zippy vinaigrette?

Gourmet Gazetteer

Two places in Missouri are named Gumbo. Both are near St. Louis–one of them in the western suburbs of the city. That Gumbo was a small farming community a mile and a half south of the Missouri River. The site is now in the center of light industrial plants, with the Spirit of St. Louis Airport just west. A cluster of convenience restaurants–mostly pizza and Asian–are near dead center of where the old Gumbo once was. The other Gumbo is a better-defined community, although its old school and general store–both long abandoned–give it a ghost town aspect. This Gumbo is still a farming area. The rich alluvial soil appears to have been more intensively farmed in the past than now. The area was settled as early as 1823. The most appealing nearby places to eat in Gumbo now are two miles east on State Highway 8: Homestyle Cafe in Leadington, and the Whistle Stop Cafe in Park Hills. It is seventy-six miles from one Gumbo, MO to the other.

Edible Dictionary

kohlrabi, n.–One of the strangest-looking of vegetables, kohlrabi is a much-altered cultivar of cabbage. The part usually eaten is a pale green bulb formed by the bulging lower ends of the stems. Despite its appearance, this bulb doesn’t grow underground. The flavor of kohlrabi is often compared with the stems of broccoli or cauliflower. The bulbs are most often peeled and then shredded into an ingredient for a salad, but sometimes they’re cooked. Only people who grow them are wild about kohlrabi, really. The name is much like the German word for rutabagas, which are related only distantly.

Music To Eat Sushi By

In 1963 on this date, Kyu Sakamoto had a Number One record on the American pop charts. It was unique in being entirely in Japanese. The real name of the song is Ue O Muite Aruko (“I Look Up When I Walk”). But its American title was Sukiyaki. Sukiyaki is a Japanese beef dish, one served in only a few of our Japanese restaurants. It is to modern Japanese cooking what beef Wellington is to French cooking. The beef is stewed (at the table, classically) in a sauce of soy, onions, and a few other things. The song returned to the charts to at Number Three in 1981, performed this time by A Taste of Honey.

Music To Blow Bubbles By

Today in 1968, the bubblegum song Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love In My Tummy) peaked at Number Three. The Ohio Express did it, and was never heard from again.

Music To Listen To My Radio Show By

Today in 1910 was the birthday of David Rose, a composer and bandleader whose biggest hit was The Stripper. He did much better work than that, notably an instrumental called Holiday For Strings. It’s the theme music that opens each hour of my radio show. I have about a dozen versions of it, including the original recording in 1941 by David Rose and his orchestra. Many people recognize the tune as the theme music for the old Red Skelton Show on television. David Rose also wrote the themes for Bonanza and Sea Hunt.

Food Inventions

In an effort to stabilize a surplus of milk, dairy farmer Jacob Fussell experimented with making ice cream on a large scale. Production and sales were good enough that on this date in 1851, in Baltimore, he opened the first commercial ice cream plant.

The Saints

Today is the movable feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For a long time a restaurant named for that veneration was a Salvadoran cafe on Belle Chasse Highway in Gretna. It recently reopened in beautiful new premises. And on the wall is still a painting of the Sacred Heart. . . Today is also the feast day of St. Vitus, for whom the nerve ailment chorea–it makes people appear to be dancing–is named. St. Vitus is also the patron saint of comedians. I am on my knees, needing all the help I can get in that department.

Food Namesakes

This is the day in 1992 when Vice-President Dan Quayle told a student in a spelling bee that “potato” was spelled “potatoe.”. . . The rap singer Ice Cube was thawed today in 1969. . . Dusty Baker, the manager of the Giants when they won the National League pennant in 2002, was born today in 1949. . . The unrelated Gene Baker, who played second base in the 1950s and 1960s, was born today in 1925. . . And on the same day, yet another man with that name, British broadcaster Richard Baker, was born.

Words To Eat By

“‘Tis an ill cook that cannot lick his own fingers.”–William Shakespeare.

Words To Drink By

“May you always have red-eye gravy with your ham, hush puppies with your catfish, and the good sense not to argue with your wife.”–Unknown, except that he is probably from Tennessee.

FoodFunniesSquare

Clark, Lois, And Soft Chocolates

The things that lovers do for one another.

Click here for the cartoon.

DiningDiarySquare-150x150

Wednesday, June 7, 2017.

A Second Taste Of Altamira.

After a couple of weeks of gully-washing rain, we have emerged into the sunshine. That is very welcome, and Mary Ann and I decide to take advantage of the cool, windy conditions to have dinner in Altamura. That’s the new and otherwise formal Italian restaurant in the Garden District. This is my third visit here, and I have found a consistent quality to the place. Like hundreds of other Italian restaurants around the world, Altamura feels it important to let you know that they serve real Italian food of the highest quality.

That point was made by owner Jack Petronella the first time we met, when he appeared on my radio show. It wasn’t long before I translated this into a reference to Northeastern Italian cooking. Which is indeed very good but very different from the Italian palate I find in my tours across Italy. I can always spot this by the presence of a proud statement about the restaurant’s meatballs. Altamura says that meatballs are the signature of its cucina.

The two girls who have joined me for dinner here (the Marys, on separate occasions) love the meatballs. They have American palates, which explains everything. And their interest in veal scaloppine, chicken piccata and the like. More interesting to me (and them) is artichokes oreganata, fried hearts with garlic, herbs, and bread crumbs. MA goes through that quickly. My interest is a similar dish functioning as the fish of the day. It’s topped generously with the herbal bread crumbs, and underlined by a lemony butter sauce with capers. This is certainly the best dish of the night to my tastes.

Some other dishes I consider include veal saltimbocca, osso buco, and the linguine with clams. That’s a dish that people who visit New Orleans are always surprised by, because of its widespread absence. They think of our part of the world as maritime. But hardly anyone ever eats clams around here. Clams must be brought from up north. So, those people who have a taste for clams will be happy to find them with pasta as well as in a broiled row with an herb butter, which I had last time I was here. Or they will get smart and order shrimp dishes instead of the non-starter clams.

I keep hearing that Altamura’s tables were hard to come by during the period in which I would not go to a new restaurant. We have been lucky in being able to walk right in and sit down. This might have something to do with the Mary’s preference for outdoor dining. It also gives us time to look around the Magnolia Mansion, which has a long history. It’s unnervingly large for a building that once was a private home. It was a hotel a couple of times, including during the major wars. Worth a look around.

But I can’t help thinking that here is a missed opportunity for a more energetic attempt to bring in the food that really is cooked and eaten in Italy–as opposed to America. Pesto the way they do it in Genoa. Any of the food of Emelia-Romagna. The goats and rabbits of Friuli. And that’s just the beginning. Altamura has the place, the background, and the chef to become one of the great Italian restaurants in America.

On the other hand, is the New Orleans eater interested enough to go down those alleys just yet?

Altamura. Garden District: 2127 Prytania St. 504-265-8101.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Sweetbreads Normande

Veal sweetbreads are the thymus glands of a veal calf. They’re marvelously tender, with the flavor of veal plus a marked richness. That owes to a rather high level of cholesterol, which makes me think of sweetbreads more as an appetizer than as the entree it classically was. This dish gets added richness from the cream sauce.

The most time-consuming part of this dish is getting the sweetbreads ready for the sauté pan. The fresh product seems almost liquid, but firms up when you poach it.

Veal sweetbreads with capers from Arnaud’s. (My recipe here is different but looks much the same.)

  • 2 lbs. sweetbreads
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1 tsp. white pepper
  • 5 Tbs. butter
  • 1/2 cup Calvados
  • 1/4 cup apple juice
  • 1 Tbs. Dijon mustard
  • 3 cups sliced mushrooms, preferably shiitakes or chanterelles
  • 12 oz. whipping cream
  • 8 oz. orzo pasta, cooled al dente

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and blanch the sweetbreads for about five minutes. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Peel the membrane from the outside of the sweetbreads. It might be necessary to pull apart the lobes to get the little shreds of membrane out, but don’t break the sweetbreads up too much. Drain the excess water.

2. Combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Dust the sweetbreads with the mixture.

3. Heat the butter in a skillet over medium heat until it bubbles. Sauté the sweetbreads until browned lightly on all sides. Don’t be concerned that they might not be cooked throughout; there’s yet another stage of cooking coming. Keep the sweetbreads warm.

4. Pour off the excess butter, but don’t wipe the pan. Lower the heat to medium-low, and add the Calvados. Bring to a boil, whisking the bottom of the pan to dissolve the juices and butter. Be careful; Calvados is highly alcoholic, and the fumes may flame. (That’s okay, but be ready to deal with it.)

5. When the Calvados is almost all gone, add the apple juice, mustard, and mushrooms. Sauté the mushrooms until soft. Add the cream and bring to a boil, stirring the pan to blend the ingredients. Be careful not to let the cream foam over.

6. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as needed. Return the sweetbreads to the pan and cook until heated through. Serve with orzo pasta.

Serves four.

500BestSquarePate Maison @ La Provence

DishStars_3
During the years immediately following John Besh’s purchase of La Provence from his mentor Chris Kerageorgiou, the chefs who came and went kept trying to distance themselves from Chris’s old house pate. made mostly of chicken livers and butter, it came to the table complimentary. It wasn’t a brilliant pate, but it sure was good, and it’s hard to argue with free. The customers, however, would not hear of the departure of the pate, no matter how good the replacement was. Current chef Erik Loos went along and restored the stuff to tables. Still free. But (and you didn’t hear this from me) he sometimes works duck liver into the batch. Hope you’ll be there that day.

A few weeks ago John Besh sold La Provence to a regular customer who owns a few restaurants in Texas. One of the first promises he made when he appeared on my radio show a few weeks ago was that the pate will remain inviolate, and it will continue to be served free. What a relief! I think I’ll go there for Father’s Day.

LaProvence-Pate-2

La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662.

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

AlmanacSquare June 14, 2017

Days Until. . . Father’s Day 4

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Strawberry Shortcake Day. You can now buy strawberries all year round, and we’re seeing strawberry shortcake a lot more, too. We love it at our house, because it tastes good and its preparation involves three things we’re always either buying or making: strawberries, whipped cream, and shortcakes. A true shortcake is not that Twinkie-like cake that came to be used for this dessert decades ago, but more like a biscuit. We bake them exactly as we do the biscuits we make for breakfast, except that we use half-and-half instead of buttermilk and about three tablespoons of sugar per cup of flour.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Fryer, Kentucky (and what a perfect state to have a town of with name!) is a rural crossroads in the western part of the state, fifty-eight miles from Paducah. Its in a valley full of farm fields between two green-hill ridges that rise about 300 feet above it. A very pretty place, full of running streams and ponds. The nearest restaurant of note is the Family Place, ten miles away in Dawson Springs. I hope they have good fried chicken.

Roots Of Bourbon

Today in 1789 was the first recorded making of whiskey from fermented corn mash, in Bourbon Country, Kentucky. That was the birth of what we now call just bourbon, the most famous distilled spirit in America. It is held in high regard overseas and in Latin America, with a reputation somewhat like the one we accord to Cognac in America. In recent years, the Bourbon distillers reversed a long slide in their fortunes by creating new small-batch bourbons of much higher quality. My favorites are Van Winkle, Baker’s and Knob Hill.

Edible Dictionary

seabob, n.–A species of saltwater shrimp (Xiphopenaeus kroyeri) very common along the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf coasts, from the Carolinas down to southern Brazil. They are caught commercially in great numbers in Louisiana, although not as great as white shrimp and brown shrimp, the leading species. Seabobs are a good bit smaller than those species, and are not often seen in markets. There is a Louisiana season for seabobs, though, and when they turn up they’re good for stews, etouffee, bisques, and remoulade.

Deft Dining Rule #240:

The more peculiar-looking the mushrooms in a Chinese dish, the better the dish will taste.

Annals Of French Cuisine

Napoleon won what he considered his greatest victory on this date in 1800 at Marengo in northern Italy, near Turin. He was fighting the Austrians. The battle is commemorated in a dish called chicken Marengo. It was what Napoleon’s cooks served him after the battle, the ingredients foraged from the area. The original recipe’s sauce was made with crawfish. Most recipes now leave that out, unless they’re made in Louisiana.

Physiology Of Eating

Dr. Henry Heimlich proposed what became known as the Heimlich maneuver today in 1974. While it doesn’t always work, and sometimes results in a fractured rib or two for the victim, it has saved thousands of choking victims who might otherwise have died or been permanently injured. Many of these were in restaurants, with the person doing the maneuver being just another customer. If you don’t know how to do it, you should learn. Here’s how, from Dr. Heimlich himself.

Food Namesakes

John Bartlett, who compiled the book of quotations that became so famous that his name is forever associated with such a book, was born today in 1820. He had no connection with the pears. . . Bill Baker, a Congressman from California, was born today in 1941 65 today. . . John Scott Trotter, who was the band leader on George Gobel’s early television show, was born today in 1908. (A trotter is a pig’s foot, in case you never heard the term.) . . . Gil Lamb, a movie actor in the 1940s, was born today in 1906.

Words To Eat By

“Talking of Pleasure, this moment I was writing with one hand, and with the other holding to my Mouth a Nectarine — how good how fine. It went down all pulpy, slushy, oozy, all its delicious embonpoint melted down my throat like a large, beatified Strawberry.”–John Keats.

Words To Drink By

“I know folks all have a tizzy about it, but I like a little bourbon of an evening. It helps me sleep. I don’t much care what they say about it.”–Lillian Carter, mother of President Jimmy Carter.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Expressions Used By Beer Aficionados.

In this case, these fellows tell us that we have beer with a clean, sharp flavor profile.

Click here for the cartoon.

####

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Tuesday, June 6, 2017.
Meribo Sound Turns Down, Temperature Goes Up. In The Rain.

The rain finally seems to have moved away enough that the worry about flooding is gone. Mary Ann and I take advantage of that by making up for an intended dinner at Meribo on Monday. But we were surprised by what we found when we turned up there. The dining room was very sparsely populated. The only reason I could see for this is that the dining room was frigid with air conditioning. I am finding for the first time in my adult life that when I am dining with women–even those whose arms, shoulders, and backs are uncovered–they are more often than not complaining that the dining room is too warm. Meanwhile, there I am in my usual uniform of jacket and tie, finding the place freezing.

I do, however, understand that restaurants are built upon the preferences of the ladies. Where the women go will be where the men will follow.

So, when MA says something about this, everybody takes it seriously, and the air tones down a bit and the pizza oven fires itself up to help the situation.

Meatballs and no spaghetti at Meribo.

We split the pizza between the two of us. It’s not one of the great pizzas in the area, but the North Shore doesn’t do pizza very well, and so Meribo tastes good by comparison.

We began this meal with “hot tots”–small potato croquettes, almost as satisfying to eat as fresh-cut fries. I have an order of lamb ravioli, which are quite good. Funny how we have five or six restaurants now that whip up a version of lamb with pasta. This is a good one, with a light, vaguely creamy sauce with wild mushrooms, peas, and mint.

Well, we enjoyed that well enough. Co-owner Vinnie LeDonne shoots the breeze with us for quite awhile. When we leave, only a few tables are occupied. Must be the weather. In a way I welcome the scene, because it keeps the very loud sound volume much lower than usual.

Meribo. Covington: 326 N. Lee Lane. 985-302-5533.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Filet Mignon au Poivre

My favorite fancy steak dish–especially when I have thick filets in hand–is steak au poivre (with pepper). This is a simple version of the steak au poivre you’ve had in restaurants. It leaves out ingredients you probably don’t have, but I mention them in parentheses in case you do.

The method of cooking steaks in a skillet with butter is the one that most restaurants use. I find that it’s the easiest way to cook a steak. But I also like the appearance and the flavor it gives, since you get a uniform brown crust this way. The technique works better for a filet than for other cuts. For best results, have your meat thermometer ready. After you finish the pan-searing, you should get a temperature of 125 for medium rare, 135 for medium.

  • 4 filets mignon, 8-10 oz. each
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 2 tsp. chopped French shallots
  • 1/4 cup brandy
  • 1 Tbs. black peppercorns, cracked
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tsp. demi-glace (optional)

1. Trim the filets if necessary, removing all but the central true filet part, as well as the tough “silverskin.” Salt and pepper lightly.

2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and turn the pan to distribute and melt it quickly. Put the steaks into the skillet. Scatter the chopped shallots around the steaks.

3. Cook the steaks for three to five minutes per side. The steaks are ready to be turned when they are mostly unstuck from the pan. That doesn’t always happen, but it’s a good guide. if the steak is really stuck down there it’s probably not ready to turn yet.) If the steaks are thick, cook them on their sides as well as on their faces.

4. Add the brandy to the pan and bring to a boil. (Be careful: it may catch fire, which is all right for flavor but potentially dangerous.) With a whisk, dissolve the browned bits of meat in the brandy as it boils.

5. When the brandy is almost boiled away, add the cream and cracked peppercorns (and the demi-glace, if you have it). Bring to a light boil and cook, agitating the pan to mix the ingredients until reduced by about a third.

6. Place the steaks on warm plates and spoon on the sauce.

Serves four.

500BestSquareOysters Slessinger @ Katie’s

DishStars-4
When Katie’s reopened five years after Katrina shut it down, the owners added a welcome oyster-shucking operation. As has been the case in restaurants with oyster bars, Katie’s installed an array of grilled oyster dishes, of which this one is best. The bivalves get grilled on their half-shells with a topping of bacon, spinach, shrimp and Provel cheese. That last item is a favorite in St. Louis, and so seldom found elsewhere that you practically have to smuggle it in by packet boat from St. Louis to get it down here. It’s more or less a mixture of cheddar and provolone. Katie’s Scot Craig uses it liberally throughout the menu, from pizza to this rich oyster appetizer, which is worth the wait. But there’s good news about that, too. Now that Katie’s has an extra dining room upstairs, the gap between your arrival and your eating is much shorter. The better to eat oysters Slessinger (named for a well-known local coach).

Katie’s. Mid-City: 3701 Iberville. 504-488-6582.

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

AlmanacSquare June 13, 2017

Days Until. . .
Father’s Day 5

Today’s Flavor

It’s National Lobster Day. Summer is a peak time for lobster, one of the great American delicacies. Its flavor is subtle, and sauces shouldn’t be overpowering. Creamy and buttery sauces seem best. Even the way it’s cooked has to be simple. Every now and then some bright boy will boil a lobster in crab boil, thereby ruining a lobster. In fact, the flavor of lobster may be too subtle. For me, the best lobster dish of all is not a boiled whole lobster, but lobster bisque, which concentrates the flavors.

Lobster inspires a special occasion the way Champagne does. Put it on the table and the meal becomes extraordinary. The only challenge is to get the shell off. It’s not hard to learn, so don’t do yourself the disservice of ordering a lobster with the shell removed. Unless you like cold lobster. Lobsters are a local product, its home being the North Atlantic. Since lobsters taste less good the longer they’re out of the sea, the most important consideration is to go to a store or restaurant that sells so many lobsters that they’re not around long. Tough lobsters spent too much time in the tank.

Several crustaceans bear the lobster name, but true lobsters are of the genus homarus. The Maine lobster is the outstanding species. Rock lobsters from Australia and South Africa also have panache, but they’re less good and usually more expensive. The spiny lobsters of the Caribbean have nowhere near the same complexity of flavor, and aren’t true lobsters.

Edible Dictionary

field peas, field peas, n.–One of several members of the cowpea family, Vigna unguiculata, which include blackeye peas and crowder peas. The entire family delivers more protein per ounce than any other bean. Field peas are about three-eights of an inch long, and are a pale tan color. They’re a little bigger than lentils. They cook quickly and make an excellent main course. They are particularly good as a side dish with seafood.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Conch Creek is a fishing community on the edge of dry land south and west of the Pee Dee River. This is about fifteen miles from the Atlantic Ocean, whose tides push the Pee Dee’s water backwards enough to turn the land around it into swamp. Conch Creek is less than a mile long and ends in the swamp somewhere. The town is sixteen air miles southwest of Myrtle Beach, but it’s a thirty-three mile trip by car. Not many routes over the Pee Dee Swamp. If you have a boat, you can navigate to the nearest restaurant, Phillips Square, six miles away on the other side of the river. It’s possible that conchs work their way up this far, but unlikely.

Food Through History

On this date in 1789, Mrs. Alexander Hamilton served ice cream at a dinner attended by George Washington. It was the first President’s first taste of the treat. Oddly enough, the flavor may have been cherry vanilla.

Annals Of Talking

On this date in 1935, Huey Long ended a fifteen-hour speech in a filibuster on the Senate floor. His speech is the longest in the history of the Senate; it ran to 150,000 words. Coincidentally, the longest speech in a restaurant may have occurred on this date in 1976, when Nigel Hackle, a waiter at the long-gone Winston’s restaurant, spent an hour and fifty-three minutes giving the verbal menu presentation. Winston’s had no printed menu, and so Nigel had to read it again and again to a couple that couldn’t understand English well.

Annals Of Overeating

General Winfield Scott, one of the greatest military minds of the early United States, was born today in 1786. By the time of the Civil War, he’d become so fatthat he had to be lifted onto a horse with a crane. It was his idea to blockade New Orleans and take control of the Mississippi River early in the war.

Deft Dining Rule #252

If you think you will order more than two glasses of wine with dinner for your table, order a whole bottle. It’s cheaper than by the glass, and the wine will be fresher. Exception: When the restaurant has a wine-pairing package with dinner.

Culinary Corruption

Today in 2005, Leonard Pickell–formerly the president of the James Beard Foundation–was convicted of having siphoned off over a million dollars of the Foundation’s money. The James Beard organization is a non-profit fund that raises money for culinary education, among other things. James Beard, you probably know, was a major writer on American food in the mid-to-late 1900s.

Physiology Of Eating

Today in 2004, a USDA study was released that showed that a quarter-teaspoon of cinnamon–about the amount in a good slab of bread pudding–reduces blood glucose, cholesterol, and fat levels by about thirty percent. I’d guess that’s about the same amount that would be restored by a good slab of bread pudding.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

To keep healthy and maintain a normal weight, only eat foods whose calorie content is equaled by the number of calories it takes to cook and eat them. Boiled crabs, for example. Or lobster, without the butter. Or oysters you have to shuck yourself.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua, who is usually depicted with docile animals. Aside from that identification, he is also thought of as the saint whose intercession is prayed for when one is starving. He died on this date in 1231, and was canonized a year later.

Food Namesakes

Actor Basil Rathbone–whose name sounds like a rare double food name, but isn’t–was born today in 1892. He played Sherlock Holmes in the movies. . . Don “Sugarcane” Harris, a superb violinist who played jazz and blues, was born today in 1939. . . Bruno Frank, an author, poet, and screenwriter, was born today in 1878. . . Today in 1912, Albert Berry became the first man ever to jump out of an airplane with a parachute. (He had the parachute, not the plane.). . . Hamish Pepper, a yachtsman for New Zealand in the 1996 Olympics, was born today in 1971. . . Australian classical composer Nigel Butterley was born today in 1935.

Words To Eat By

“My fare is really sumptuous this evening; buffalo’s humps, tongues and marrowbones, fine trout parched meal pepper and salt, and a good appetite; the last is not considered the least of the luxuries.”–Journals of Lewis and Clark, Thursday, June 13, 1805.

“‘His mother worked in a factory, and his father was a cop. He probably wouldn’t know a dinner fork from a pitchfork,’ Lauren said. Jesse grunted. ‘Might make for an interesting dinner companion.'”–Lynda J. Coble, American novelist, born today in 1953.

Words To Drink By

“Vinum bonum laetificat cor hominis.” (Wine makes the heart of man glad.)–Psalms 104:15.

FoodFunniesSquare

How We Know Nancy And Sluggo Never Got Married.

Not only this, but because he can’t remember to take his cap off in a dining room.

Click here for the cartoon.

### ###

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, June 2, 2017.
An Opulent Dining Weekend Begins at Del Porto.

Mary Ann and I have only one another for our dining this weekend. And although she swears that she will not eat anything –she, like the other Mary, is obsessed with losing weight. Neither of the Marys need their crash programs of exercise. But if they fail to lose a few ounces, I get blamed for forcing them to eat when they didn’t really intend to do so.

One day I will laugh at all this.

It’s my idea to dine at Del Porto, which is not only the closest serious restaurant to the Cool Water Ranch, but the best Italian restaurant in the New Orleans area, something I have said for quite a few years now. The style of cooking also sets it apart. The flavors of Tuscany are the most obvious of the kitchen’s goals, but there are many other seldom-tasted, superb eats here.

Tprtellini pasta at Del Porto.

We begin with an antipasto platter that holds an assortment of cured salumi, marinated vegetables, small wedges of cheese, all designed to be an early companion with a glass or two of wine.

MA and I split the second course. It’s tortellini pasta in a light, savory, brothy sauce riddled with wild mushrooms. This is a marvelous example of why I like Del Porto so much. Everything on this plate brings forth full satisfaction, but with a lightness that must appeal to MA. (Although I do not touch this question.) I don’t have to start that conversation. MA loves this pasta as much as I do.

She quits eating at that point. I was encouraged by the server to bring on a new chicken dish, the sauce a reduction of stock that began with game. It’s thick and dark on the plate, which is also scattered with not only a half-chicken, but no small amount of vegetables.

There’s only one problem with Del Porto that someday they must ameliorate. The sounds in the dining room are too loud to make east conversation. There are plenty worse than this offender, but it’s enough to make me want to follow MA’s wishes and get a table on the sidewalk. But it is raining tonight.

Again.

Del Porto. Covington: 501 E Boston St. 985-875-1006.
Saturday, June 3, 2017.
Keith Young Isn’t Here, But We Couldn’t Tell.

Our across-road neighbor is a lady who has been very kind to our menagerie of dogs and cats over the years. Even though we have fed her own pets (some of which are horses), she is ahead of the game, and Mary Ann and I take her out to lunch or dinner once in awhile, to keep the ledger balanced. And that is the motivating force tonight, as we go with our neighbor to Keith Young’s Steak House. She has not been there before, even though she has lived in the neighborhood longer than we have).

We make a lot of noise about how good Keith’s steaks are, and we seemed to have her sold–but she decides at the last minute to go instead for Keith’s excellent spaghetti bordelaise, with a row of seared shrimp across it. This winds up to be pretty good. Mary Ann stays with seafood, getting a very large soft shell crab.

I too have some seafood at the beginning, with an order of four oysters Bienville. I offer it to the girls but they don’t go for it, even though they know that, according to Keith himself, the recipe is straight out of my own cookbook. I order it just to make sure that it stays on the menu.

Bone-in fillet-mignon.

But my main is a special: a bone-in filet mignon. We have seen that on menus everywhere around town, and I always order it, even though it’s a hit-and-miss game. It’s never cut the same in any two restaurants, but I like the way Keith is doing it. It was clearly cut from a porterhouse, but the way this is accomplished sends forth a beautifully thick slab of beef. It’s even cooked the way I like it. A side of thick, fresh, and well-trimmed asparagus finishes the dinner.

No dessert, because nobody’s even a little hungry.

Keith did not show his face throughout the dinner. That is unusual for me. I didn’t ask why, but my guess is that he has bought a new banquet facility in Mandeville. I don’t know much about it. But this I do know: the steakhouse is running smoothly while he was across town. That is one of the hallmarks of the great restaurateur.

Keith Young’s Steak House. Madisonville: 165 LA 21. 985-845-9940.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Microwave Roux

For awhile, I went over to making most dark roux in the microwave oven. I’ve backed away from the idea, but I still do it at times. At first, I thought microwaving speeds up the process, but I have come to believe otherwise. Still, it’s a handy approach for some roux needs.

You must use a heatproof glass bowl. Know that a modest danger exists that even heatproof glass can suddenly shatter while making something that gets as hot as a roux does. It happened to me once, inside the microwave oven. The danger rises if you take the container out of the oven to stir on a cold counter. Put it on top of a dishcloth. A roux gets hotter than almost anything else you can put in a microwave. It is just as easy to burn a roux in the microwave as in a pot on the stove. To avoid that, use shorter and shorter bursts between stirrings.

  • 1 cup flour
  • 2/3 cup oil (or butter, lard, or your favorite fat)

1. Combine the flour and oil in a heat-proof (i.e., Pyrex) measuring cup. Stir it to blend it as completely as you can.

2. Microwave the mixture on high for 2:30 (two minutes and thirty seconds). Remove it from the microwave and stir it very well with a teaspoon or a fork, breaking up any clumps of flour. You may be able to get a smooth mixture (or maybe not), but that is the ideal.

3. Microwave again for 1:30. Remove and stir very well, until smooth. Be careful! This stuff will now be very hot, and the cup and the business end of the stirring implement will be hot enough to burn you severely. (The handle of the cup is usually safe to grasp–but don’t take that on faith!)

4. Microwave for 45 seconds. The roux now will be hot enough to continue cooking and darkening while you’re stirring it, so keep stirring it, scraping the bottom of the cup and breaking all clumps immediately, until you have a smooth paste. Then stir for another 30 seconds at least.

5. The roux should be dark enough for most purposes by now, but if you want it darker still, microwave it in bursts of 15 seconds or less, with long stirring in between. When it reaches the color you want, keep stirring until it has cooled enough to stop cooking. Or stir in the chopped onions, celery, etc. from the recipe you’re working on.

Makes about 2/3 cup of roux.

500BestSquareSpanakopita @ Acropolis Cuisine

DishStars_3
We don’t have many Greek restaurants in New Orleans, but this one keeps us from starving to death while hoping for more of them. The cooking is homestyle and yet polished. There’s no better example of that than the spinach and cheese pie. Its flavor is full and wonderful, while at the same time the lightness of the dish makes it irresistible. It make a great side dish to spread around the table, or a vegetarian entree. It warms up in an oven or a microwave easily, and for that reason is a great dish to bring to a pot-luck supper.

Acropolis Cuisine. Metairie: 3841 Veterans Blvd. 504-888-9046.

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

AlmanacSquare June 9, 2017

Days Until. . .
Father’s Day 8

Food Calendar

This is Worldwide Roux Day. Making roux is a classical French culinary technique dating back to the 1600s. But nowhere in the world is it done as much as here in Southeast Louisiana. Although there are many ways to make a roux, we all seem to agree that making it one way or another is essential to get the distinctive flavor and texture of Creole and Cajun food. It thickens sauces, adds color, and contributes a special mouthfeel and nutty flavor.

Roux as we know it is a blend of flour and fat, cooked to some degree. The fat component can be almost anything: butter, oil, or rendered animal fat. It’s cooked with the flour until it reaches the color the cook wants. The essential technique is simple, but taxing: you have to keep stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot to keep the mixture from burning. Burned roux can’t be repaired. It has an unmistakably horrible flavor.

Going back to the beginning: as the flour and fat cook its texture changes to create blond roux–the first stage, used for some dishes as a thickener, and for making bechamel. It keeps getting darker, at an increasing rate, as it cooks, going through a distinctly reddish stage (the word “roux” is a reference to this redness), to dark brown and finally almost black. By that point it’s extremely hot. It has been called “Cajun napalm” for what happens if a big blob of hot roux happens to splash on your arm.

Everybody has a different way of making roux. French chefs usually cook it dry on the oven, and add the oil later. Some cooks heat the oil very hot first then add the flour and stir like mad as the roux darkens with alarming rapidity. With a lower heat, it’s less tricky, but takes more time. Roux can even be made in the microwave oven by nuking it in diminishing bursts and stirring in between. (A very strong glass container is needed, and there’s still risk of breakage.)

The standard home use of roux is to add the other ingredients for the dish when the roux is the right color. The vegetables will also cool the roux as they cook. Most chefs, however, make a large amount of roux, and add it as they need it to the pot. That way they get the exact right amount of thickening and darkening.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

The first step in making a roux involves neither flour nor oil, but chopping the vegetables you will throw into the roux when it gets to the color you want. Or filling a cup with stock and placing it within easy reach of your roux position.

Music To Puree Vegetables By

Fred Waring was born today in 1900. He was best known for his Big Band, the Pennsylvanians, in the 1930s and 1940s. He played sweet music, as opposed to jazz. But his longest-lasting legacy is the Waring Blender. He didn’t invent it, but he improved the concept so much that his became the standard blender design, the one we use even now. Food processors supplanted it for many uses, but the blender is still an essential kitchen tool, and has seen a resurgence in recent years.

Annals Of Soft Drinks

Hires Root Beer made its first appearance in 1869 on this date. It is still widely available, and occasionally you’ll see a Hires Root Beer barrel in an older restaurant. It’s the original root beer, as well as the oldest continuously-marketed brand of any kind of soft drink. It started as a make-it-yourself herbal tea of roots, berries, and leaves. But Charles E. Hires thought the name “root beer” would have more appeal than “herbal tea.” I remember it tasted a lot different from Barq’s, which probably explains its rarity in these parts.

Edible Dictionary

sassafras, n.–One of several species of tree that grows in the eastern half of the United States. Its leaves, when dried and ground, are the only ingredient of gumbo filé, an aromatic herb added to gumbo at the table. The leaves have a big-time nonconformity: they come in three shapes, all mixed together on every specimen of the tree. One of them is a standard point-oval leaf shape. The second looks like a mitten. The third has a large central lobe and a smaller lobe on each side of it. The roots were once used to make root beer, but were banned from that use in 1960 because of evidence it caused liver damage and cancer.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Sassafras is a rural crossroads in extreme southern Indiana, fifty-nine miles west of Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a mix of wooded areas and farm fields. A number of small lakes formed on the streams around there suggest fish farms. Interstate 64 runs just north, and that’s where the nearest place to eat is: nine miles west, at Deb’s Truck Stop.

Annals Of Fast Food

Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart opened the first Automat restaurant in Philadelphia today in 1902. You’d insert coins into a slot next to the glass door displaying the dish you wanted, and the door would unlock, allowing you to remove your dish. Meanwhile, a full kitchen staff was back there cooking more food and plating it up to fill all those little windows. It was the first fast food restaurant–although its menu had nothing on common with the fast food of today. Automats were especially popular in New York in the 1920s through the 1950s, when they began to fade. At their peak, the 157 Automats served over a half-million people a day. It now seems a very strange way of serving food, but it worked for those whose only goal was to allay their hunger. The last Automat closed in New York in 1991.

Inventions In Eating

Although George Washington is famous for wearing them, the patent for false teeth was claimed today in 1822 by Charles Graham. It may seem strange now, but the main effect of the appliance was to prevent starvation in older people. Now there’s so much food out there with what seems to be a pre-chewed texture that a toothless person could probably get by, if he could stand looking funny.

Music To Eat Your Sweets By

Jelly Roll Morton recorded Jelly Roll Blues today in 1924. It’s not really about the spiral cake rolled up with jelly, although no internal evidence in the lyrics betrayed this.

Food Namesakes

In 1969 today, Warren Burger was confirmed as the new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. . . Cole Porter, one of the two or three greatest composers of American popular songs in the 1930s and 1940s, was born today in 1891. He had a rare name that includes both food and drink words. . . Luigi Fagioli, Italian racecar driver, started his engine today in 1898. (Fagioli is Italian for beans.)

Words To Eat By

“The various kinds of roux are used as the thickening agents for basic sauces, and their preparation, which appears to be of little importance, should actually be carried out with a great deal of care and attention.”–August Escoffier.

Words To Drink By

Woman first tempted man to eat; he took to drinking of his own accord.–Unknown.

FoodFunniesSquare

Depression Among Small Edible Fish.

That’s the most alluring headline I’ve written in a long time. It brings forth curiosity.

Click here for the cartoon.

####

DiningDiarySquare-150x150 Friday, June 2, 2017.
An Opulent Dining Weekend Begins at Del Porto.

Mary Ann and I have only one another for our dining this weekend. And although she swears that she will not eat anything –she, like the other Mary, is obsessed with losing weight. Neither of the Marys need their crash programs of exercise. But if they fail to lose a few ounces, I get blamed for forcing them to eat when they didn’t really intend to do so.

One day I will laugh at all this.

It’s my idea to dine at Del Porto, which is not only the closest serious restaurant to the Cool Water Ranch, but the best Italian restaurant in the New Orleans area, something I have said for quite a few years now. The style of cooking also sets it apart. The flavors of Tuscany are the most obvious of the kitchen’s goals, but there are many other seldom-tasted, superb eats here.

Tprtellini pasta at Del Porto.

We begin with an antipasto platter that holds an assortment of cured salumi, marinated vegetables, small wedges of cheese, all designed to be an early companion with a glass or two of wine.

MA and I split the second course. It’s tortellini pasta in a light, savory, brothy sauce riddled with wild mushrooms. This is a marvelous example of why I like Del Porto so much. Everything on this plate brings forth full satisfaction, but with a lightness that must appeal to MA. (Although I do not touch this question.) I don’t have to start that conversation. MA loves this pasta as much as I do.

She quits eating at that point. I was encouraged by the server to bring on a new chicken dish, the sauce a reduction of stock that began with game. It’s thick and dark on the plate, which is also scattered with not only a half-chicken, but no small amount of vegetables.

There’s only one problem with Del Porto that someday they must ameliorate. The sounds in the dining room are too loud to make east conversation. There are plenty worse than this offender, but it’s enough to make me want to follow MA’s wishes and get a table on the sidewalk. But it is raining tonight.

Again.

Del Porto. Covington: 501 E Boston St. 985-875-1006.
Saturday, June 3, 2017.
Keith Young Isn’t Here, But We Couldn’t Tell.

Our across-road neighbor is a lady who has been very kind to our menagerie of dogs and cats over the years. Even though we have fed her own pets (some of which are horses), she is ahead of the game, and Mary Ann and I take her out to lunch or dinner once in awhile, to keep the ledger balanced. And that is the motivating force tonight, as we go with our neighbor to Keith Young’s Steak House. She has not been there before, even though she has lived in the neighborhood longer than we have).

We make a lot of noise about how good Keith’s steaks are, and we seemed to have her sold–but she decides at the last minute to go instead for Keith’s excellent spaghetti bordelaise, with a row of seared shrimp across it. This winds up to be pretty good. Mary Ann stays with seafood, getting a very large soft shell crab.

I too have some seafood at the beginning, with an order of four oysters Bienville. I offer it to the girls but they don’t go for it, even though they know that, according to Keith himself, the recipe is straight out of my own cookbook. I order it just to make sure that it stays on the menu.

Bone-in fillet-mignon.

But my main is a special: a bone-in filet mignon. We have seen that on menus everywhere around town, and I always order it, even though it’s a hit-and-miss game. It’s never cut the same in any two restaurants, but I like the way Keith is doing it. It was clearly cut from a porterhouse, but the way this is accomplished sends forth a beautifully thick slab of beef. It’s even cooked the way I like it. A side of thick, fresh, and well-trimmed asparagus finishes the dinner.

No dessert, because nobody’s even a little hungry.

Keith did not show his face throughout the dinner. That is unusual for me. I didn’t ask why, but my guess is that he has bought a new banquet facility in Mandeville. I don’t know much about it. But this I do know: the steakhouse is running smoothly while he was across town. That is one of the hallmarks of the great restaurateur.

Keith Young’s Steak House. Madisonville: 165 LA 21. 985-845-9940.

RecipeSquare-150x150

Oysters and Pasta Creole Bordelaise

A delicious and very simple combination: spaghetti aglio olio (or “bordelaise,” as we call it in New Orleans) with fresh Louisiana oysters. The crushed red pepper develops as it cooks, and spreads warmth.

Oysters and pasta bordelaise (sort of).

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 24 fresh large oysters
  • 4 Tbs. butter
  • 2 Tbs. finely-chopped fresh garlic
  • 4 Tbs. finely chopped green onion tops
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 lb. vermicelli, cooked al dente
  • 8 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. In a small skillet over medium-low flame, heat the olive oil and then add the oysters, cooking them by shaking the pan and making them roll around until they plump up.

2. Add the butter, garlic, green onions, crushed red pepper and salt. Cook, agitating the pan all the while, until the green onions have wilted. Don’t cook more than a minute, or the garlic and green onions will lose their flavor.

3. Remove from heat and add cooked, drained pasta to pan. Toss the pasta with the other ingredients to distribute the sauce evenly. Top with fresh chopped parsley. (Parmesan cheese should not be served with this.)

Serves four.

500BestSquareOyster-Artichoke Soup @ Mandina’s

DishStars_3
Oysters and artichokes go so well together that it’s no wonder a soup made from them is right up there with gumbo and turtle soup among our favorite potages. The original version as we know it was created by Chef Warren Leruth at his legendary, extinct restaurant in Gretna. It was widely copied around town then and now. Nobody does a better version of it than Mandina’s. I doubt they use fresh artichokes (neither did Leruth), but the flavor is all there. The soup has a great, thick texture (from a blond roux–no cream) and just the right herbal component. And always more and bigger oysters than you expect. I prefer it not only to other such recipes around town, but also to Mandina’s vaunted turtle soup.

Mandina’s. Mid-City: 3800 Canal. 504-482-9179.

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

AlmanacSquare June 8, 2017

Days Until. . .
Father’s Day 9

Food Calendar

This is National Alfresco Dining Day. “Alfresco”–literally, “in the fresh style”–is the fancy name for outdoor dining. Tables in the courtyard or on the beach or even on a sidewalk are considered by many to be the most desirable. Everywhere on the West Coast, for example. Up in the mountains. On the beach. I’ve had memorable outdoor meals all over the place.

Unfortunately for us Orleanians, our climate doesn’t provide many days when dining outdoors is comfortable. In most years we go straight from a short, intense, clammy winter to a blazing, humid summer and back again. Just a couple of weeks of tolerably cool weather intervene. We like the idea of patio dining more than the reality. Especially in the fine-dining category. Even with the tremendous easing of dress codes in the past decade, you’re still unlikely to be clad in a bathing suit–the only cool attire in mid-summer–when you step out for a big evening.

Dining in courtyards here has other drawbacks. Things fall out of trees. First come the live oak catkins. Then the stinging buck moth caterpillars. The French Quarter, which has the best courtyards, also has rodents and termites. Even the best-kept, cleanest, most pest-controlled restaurant cannot control all its neighbors. Who but the most dedicated lover of outdoors would put up with it?

Everybody, apparently. Except on really hot, hostile sidewalks, alfresco tables fill up, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.

Today is also National Jelly Doughnut Day. Do you know what flavor jelly that is? I mean the brilliant red stuff? Apparently it’s made only for doughnut-stuffing. I’m getting queasy just writing about it.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Dish Lake is in western Wyoming, sixty air miles from Grend Teton National Park. It’s more like a bowl than a dish, a round depression in the scrub-covered rock that only lets water out when it’s very high. Any fish in it were brought there as eggs by birds. Dish Lake is 9591 feet above sea level, where the sky is almost purple. It’s a six and a half mile hike down to Dubois and the Cowboy Cafe, the nearest place to rustle up some grub.

Annals Of Food Marketing

On this date in 1786, the first known advertisement for ice cream ran in New York City. The ice cream maker’s name was Hall, but that’s all that is known. . . This is the day in 1965 when Frito-Lay and Pepsi-Cola merged to become PepsiCo. Later, after the company bought Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, it became the world’s largest restaurant operator. (It has since spun the restaurant unit off to Yum! Brands.)

Edible Dictionary

poké, n.–poké [POE-kay], Hawaiian, n.–Also spelled “poki.” A chilled salad made from diced fish–usually raw–mixed with seaweed, onions, and (to be really authentic) the meats of the kukui nuts. Poké has a long history in Hawaii, but its fame exploded when Chef Sam Choy started an annual poké festival. Now it’s found here and there on the mainland, especially on the West Coast. The fish most often used to make it outside Hawaii is tuna. It’s in many ways like tuna tartare and the spicy tuna found in sushi bars. And it’s turning up on many restaurants lately. Example: the tuna appetizer at the five-star Pelican CLub.

Dining Through History

Today in 1954, the Supreme Court declared that restaurants could not refuse service to customers on account of their race.

Music To Eat What By?

Today in 1958, the novelty song Purple People Eater made it to Number One. It was sung (and we use the word loosely here) by Sheb Wooley.

Food In The Movies

Today in 2001, the movie Swordfish premiered, with John Travolta and Halle Berry. The plot was not about seafood, but computer hacking. What a disappointment!

Celebrity Chefs Of Yesterday

Marie-Antoine Careme was born today in 1784. He, more than anyone else, gave French cuisine the complexity and structure that led to its becoming the leading Western style of cookery. He worked for kings and emperors, who could afford his elaborate dishes and were gratified by them. Careme wrote the first modern cookbooks of French cuisine, mostly for the consumption of court kitchens. He introduced the “brigade” organization of cooks that modern restaurants still use today.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Medard, who lived in France in the Fifth Century. He is the patron saint of brewers (one of many), and his intercession is asked in times of too little or too much rain. The weather lately in New Orleans has worn him thin.

Food Namesakes

Luisa Tetrazzini, the opera singer for whom the fake Italian dish turkey Tetrazzini was named, was born today in 1871. She was, like many singers of the period, quite ample. Here’s a recipe. . . Tommy Roe, a singer of bubblegum-music hits in the 1960s, was born today in 1942. . . And here’s a rare double food name note: today in 1985, Eddie Maple rode a horse named Creme Fraiche to win the Belmont Stakes. . . Television and movie actress Kathy Baker stepped onto the Big Set today in 1950. . . British actor Colin Baker, one of the people who portrayed Dr. Who, appeared today in 1943. . . Bluegrass guitarist Tony Rice expressed his distress for the first time today in 1951.

Words To Eat By

“Is she fat? Her favorite food is seconds.”–Joan Rivers, born today in 1933, talking about Elizabeth Taylor.

“The breakfast slimes, angel food cake, doughnuts and coffee, white bread and gravy cannot build an enduring nation.”–Martin H. Fischer.

Words To Drink By

“Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called Everybody, and they meet at the bar.”–Drew Carey.

FoodFunniesSquare

The Right Size Cup Of Coffee.

And the wrong approach to keeping it hot.

Click here for the cartoon.

####