Diary Thursday, 10/4/2018. We’re departing the Cool Water Ranch for the Eat Club Cruise, which begins next week. As is always the case, I am mired in the need for me to produce a set of commercials for the radio show, to fill in the spots while I’m gone. The way this always works is predictable: all of a sudden every sponsor needs either to need a new spot, or to get a revised version, usually with the smallest imaginable number of changes–which take just as long to create than if I started over from scratch. Fortunately, I enjoy my work.
Not enough, however, to need strategies for making traveling easy. I used to bring a full working set of my computer and its data, so I can publish my newsletter every day. I have since decided that my readers will allow me to take the time off for a week or two, as long as I compile a lot of articles during the trip and add it to the Dining Diary when I return. I’ll leave a note here to that effect when I go.
I hate packing and unpacking. I have a couple of tricks that I use on a cruise ship when I’m gone a full week or more. Instead of packing all the clothes I think I’ll need, I pack only a few sets of clothes. After two or three days I send wrinkled, splotched clothes, and even underwear to the laundry on the ship. Not the mini-laundry there, but the one where the launderers make a few extra bucks and I don’t have to waste my time on such a mundane task.
On a similar note, I never get a haircut before the trip. Instead, I go to the ship’s salon early on–sometime before the ship leaves the harbor–and get snipped by the ships’s always-beautiful hair cutters, the prices for which are very affordable.
The next thing I do after that is to take a nap, preferably a long one, then read the map of the ship. I’ll be looking for the best places for the eighty-or-so people traveling with me to get together for Tom’s late-afternoon Martini Club. You don’t have to drink a martini anymore; I can’t drink Martinis anymore, anyway.
At about this point, the Diary will take over. And then, somebody I know will turn up and we’ll have dinner. I do my best to find dinner companions who are new friends. This is not required, but it makes the cruising experience much more memorable.
Thursday, 10/05/2018. Charlie’s Seafood. That’s what most of the customers of this long-running Harahan eatery call it. But the sign in from uses its official name: Charles Sea Foods. It has changed its ownership several times since the 1950s, when it opened. The best-remembered owner was Chef Frank Brigtsen, who had it for about a year a few years ago. Frank left it then, finding it less appealing than he thought it would be.
In all the years I’ve tried to eat at Charlie’s only a few times. To make a long story short, the place gives the basics of a New Orleans seafood house, with fried everything, gumbo, jambalaya, and–its best-known product–is boiled seafood. Indeed, today we were very much impressed by the size of the boiled crabs. Which are in season at the moment. They were selling lots of crabs today, likely because of the impressive size.
Otherwise, the fried seafood was crisp and good, the grilled oysters were garlicky and buttery, the stuffed crabs mediocre, and the management seemed pleasant enough. The restaurant was quite busy–we got the last open table. But whether I would make the trip from most places in the New Orleans area to the elbow of Harahan makes it less than glowing on my list.
Charles Sea Foods. Harahan: 8311 Jefferson Hwy. 504-405-5263.
Is it everybody’s favorite pasta dish? Well, I had a party once where I set up a pasta bar, with six different pasta dishes. This is the one everybody talked about. Although most version use heavy cream, I find you get a better flavor if the sauce is lighter. So I use half-and-half instead. Some recipes–including the one from the restaurant in Rome for which the dish is named–call for an egg yolk to be added to the hot, sauced pasta right before serving. Others use Romano cheese to replace the Parmigiano. I offer those suggestions for a change of pace.
- 1 lb. thin fettuccine noodles
- 1/2 stick butter
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Fresh ground pepper
1. Cook the fettuccine in three quarts of water at a rolling boil with a tablespoon of salt dissolved in it. Cook only until very flexible, but still firm. Drain and keep warm. Reserve 1/4 cup of the water you boiled the pasta in.
2. In a large skillet, melt the butter, then whisk in the half-and-half. Bring it to a light boil over medium heat until blended completely. Whisk in the reserved pasta water, then turn off the heat.
3. Add the hot pasta to and sprinkle on the Parmesan cheese. With two forks, toss the pasta with the sauce until the cheese is blended in. If you like, add an egg yolk at this point and toss quickly to blend.
4. Serve with freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Serves four entrees or eight appetizers.
October 5, 2017
Halloween: Oct. 31
Thanksgiving Nov. 23:
It’s Filé Day here in Louisiana, about the only place where that herb is routinely used in cooking. Filé is made by drying and crushing the leaves of the sassafras tree into a powder. Sassafras is a smallish tree that grows in the shady woods throughout the South. The leaves are unusual in having three distinct shapes, mixed uniformly throughout the tree. Some are leaf-like pointed ovals, some look like mittens, and others look like mittens with thumbs on both sides.
The one and only use for filé in the kitchen is a big one in these parts: making gumbo. It’s usually a gumbo made with something like chicken or sausage. (I personally think it doesn’t belong in seafood gumbo.) Some chefs add it during the cooking process as a thickener, but it has a bitterness when used that way. I think the aroma is better than the flavor, and so I dust it on the top of the gumbo at the table. I’ve tried using fresh sassafras leaves in gumbo, but that doesn’t do a thing. Apparently the drying process is necessary for the aroma to emerge.
The name “filé” is derived from French, in which it translates as “string” or “line.” When filé is stirred into a liquid, it forms a sort of string until it gets fully soaked. Filé’s dirty secret is that parts of the sassafras tree have been found to be carcinogenic–notably the roots, which were once the source of flavoring (and the name) for root beer. Products containing the problematic substance are banned. However, little if any of that is in the leaves, and apparently the small amount of filé you ingest in gumbo isn’t enough to hurt you. Although who knows?
You can make your own file. I’ve found a very thorough explanation of how to do so, along with pictures of sassafras leaves, at this web site.
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.
Annals Of Fast Food
This is the birthday in 1902 of Ray Kroc. He liked the hamburger stand operated by the McDonald brothers in Southern California so much that he bought the company. He was more impressed by the innovative rapid-service aspect of McDonald’s than the hamburgers. As time went on, what little there was to be said good about McDonald’s food fell victim to the need for speed. The French fries, for example, used to be freshly-cut from whole potatoes on the individual restaurants, fried in beef tallow. They were great! Now they’re just sticks. Even the burger has come down a lot. Formerly freshly grilled with the onions, now they’re cooked in advance and warmed in a microwave right before being served. The curve points downward, while the company continues to thrive.
Deft Dining Rule #137
If you have to eat while driving, make it a standard single McDonald’s hamburger. It’s so dry that there’s no chance any of it will get on your clothes.
Food in Show Biz
Today in 1961, the movie Breakfast At Tiffany’s, based on the Truman Capote book, was registered in the U.S. Patent Office. The most delicious part of it was its star, Audrey Hepburn.
History Of Cooking
Today in 1568 in what is now Belgium, Willem of Orange and his army took over Brabant. That sounds like a food story, but isn’t exactly, although Brabant potatoes–fried cubes drizzled with butter–are named for the place. The Belgians have been frying potatoes (better than anybody else, at that) for a very long time.
Sautee, Georgia is in the hilly northeast corner of the state, ninety-three miles north northeast of Atlanta. It’s an unincorporated community in the valley of the Nacoochee River. Hills on either side rise about 350 feet above the valley floor, giving a scenic outlook. It’s rural, but some Atlantans have weekend homes in the area, and enough people live there to support a school. The name of the town is pronounced “saw-tee,” derived from a Creek Indian word for “raccoon people.” No wonder people are moving there. The whole area is on the National Register of Historic Places, and a Folk Pottery Museum is there. A chef will sautee something for your lunch or dinner at the Nacoochee Guest House, right there in Sautee.
Penny Baker, Playboy’s Playmate of the Month in January 1984, was born today in 1965. . . Jimmy Ritz, one of the Ritz Brothers comedy and vaudeville team, was born today in 1903. British actor Fred Feast stepped onto the Big Stage today in 1929.
Words To Eat By
“It was not her sex appeal but the obvious relish with which she devoured the hamburger that made my pulse begin to hammer with excitement.”–Ray Kroc, founder of the McDonald’s chain, born today in 1902. He was talking about his first meeting with the woman who he would later marry.
“Well, there doesn’t seem anything else for an ex-President to do but to go into the country and raise big pumpkins.”–Chester Allen Arthur, the twenty-first President, born today in 1830.
Words To Drink By
“There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and that he should make his soul enjoy good in his labor.” —Ecclesiastes, 2:24.