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Diary For New Year’s Weekend, 2018 & 2019. Joe Cahn Departs Us. Our last Sunday brunch of the year. Fireworks in the river blow up in our face.

The big New Orleans food story on the last day of the year was the demise of Joe Cahn, the official Commissioner of Tailgating. That function sent him around the country to professional and college football games, where he would visit all the tailgate events taking place and encourage everyone else to tailgate better and more often. Tailgating is what you’re doing when you fold down the tailgate of your vehicle and cover it with a spread of food and drinks. Joe’s efforts began in New Orleans, with a special emphasis on good cooking, Creole and Cajun style.

Aside from that, Joe was a great booster for New Orleans cuisine and tourism. His career as we know it began in the 1970s, when he opened the New Orleans School of Cooking. He ran that for many years, expanding the program until he sold it. It’s still in operation, turning a lot of people on to local cooking.

From there, Joe became an encourager of people who might be visiting New Orleans, and of people who were looking for more reasons to spend more time and money in our town. He was endlessly amusing, with an anecdote for every event. His white beard, bald head and large frame showed up wherever anything fun turned up. For many years he and idea broadcast from Gallier Hall every Mardi Gras. It was just one of dozens of places where Joe turned up.

He died on the last day of 2018 of a heart problem. The memorial event for him will be a celebration of his life and New Orleans culture. It will be hard to separate the two. Joke on, Joe Cahn!

We have brought several friends with us to our Sunday brunches at Ox Lot 9 in the Southern Hotel. The couple I invited this week can’t make it, because they’re busy with a tailgating party for the Saints game. (Joe Cahn would be pleased.) But MA loves the Ox Lot, so we go there anyway.

MA–who to a great extent runs my life–gave me some flack yesterday about my always getting the same dish when we go to Ox Lot 9’s brunch. The reason I do is that the frittata there is not only good but unique, with crabmeat and mushrooms floating in a cloud of egg whites and whipping cream, served in a red-hot skillet. Yeah, you’ve read me talking about this before. But it really is a great dish, and getting dishes that a person has had before is in fact the way most people eat. And acting like a regular customer is part of my routine as I review restaurants.

But MA is She Who Must Be Obeyed. So today I get Ox Lot’s pork belly set atop a poutine of fresh-cut potato fries, with cheddar cheese, sweet chile peppers, poached eggs and hollandaise. It is second only to the frittata as the best brunch dish I’ve had at Ox Lot 9. Poutine is something I avoid, it being the Canadian fries with cheese and a brown gravy over the top. A real mess. But the Ox Lot version is so refined that I will probably have it more often. Which brings us back to where we started.

MA has the papusa of braised chicken with queso Fresco. (We’re done with Canada, and no have moved to Mexico. I don’t believe that this is any reference to The Wall.) Also here are grits, black bean salsa, cilantro lime crème fraiche, and a fried egg. She is not nuts about this, and says that she would have preferred the cheeseburger, which she says is one of the two or three best anywhere.

New Year’s Eve, 2018. Watching The Fireworks Just Outside Our Window.

The gang at Tommy’s Seafood–it’s a wholesale merchant of fresh seafood in New Orleans and Baton Rouge–invited us to join them in their suite at the Westin Canal Place Hotel for New Year’s Eve. Our connection is with Tommy and Maria DeLaune, who at one time were the owners of Redemption, the restaurant in the former church building that was Christian’s before Redemption, and Vessel, the restaurant there now. Somewhere along the way, we started going out to dinner with the DeLaunes, and MA hangs out with Maria quite a bit.

Well, the DeLaunes have this suite. . . and with what a view! The bend in the river is prominent–unless it happens to be New Year’s Eve, in which case the fireworks being launched from the barges in the river seem to come right up to our windows. It is certainly the best look I ever got of the incendiaries. They went on for about half an hour, and you couldn’t pull your eyes away.

And there was food. Tommy and Maria cooked a lot of good eats, starting with shrimp boiled in Al Scramuzza’s Seafood Boil (Al and Tommy are buds) and sauce with Arnaud’s remoulade, which is as good as you get, if you ask me.

And there was crawfish etouffee, and salads of many kinds. The biggest grapes we’ve ever seen. Fried chicken. Pulled barbecue pork. Sloppy Joe’s. Barbecue beans. The first king cake I will take a bit front did not contain a baby. The pecan pie was intense.

Liquids: wine, beer, and–of course–champagne. The latter was Freixenet Cava, the bubbly that MA and I served our guests at our wedding reception thirty years ago.

The it was discovered that several of the guests this night were good singers. And we all sang. 2019 began with a prayer, and then the National Anthem. It was a memorable New Year’s Eve, if ever there was one.

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Spaghetti Pizza

This is not, as you might fear, spaghetti on top of pizza. It’s spaghetti turned into a pizza–sort of. The idea comes from a cooking show my son Jude co-produced in Los Angeles. I didn’t catch the details, but when I improvised it from what I remember it came out good enough to share.

This is one of the rare dishes in which you should cook the pasta a bit beyond al dente. We want it to stick together a bit. It also helps to use thin spaghetti.

  • Sauce:
  • 1 28-ounce can whole peeled Italian tomatoes, juice reserved
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tsp. chopped garlic (or more, if you love garlic)
  • 6-10 leaves fresh basil, chopped finely
  • 6 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, leaves only, chopped finely
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 Tbs. salt
  • 1 lb. thin string pasta (vermicelli or angel hair)
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cups shredded Romano cheese

1. Combine all the sauce ingredients in a food processor and process to a rough puree. Pour it into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Stir every couple of minutes.

2. Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil with the tablespoon of salt. Add the pasta and cook for 6-7 minutes, until it’s sticky. Drain the pasta well and allow to cool until it’s no longer steaming.

3. Dump the pasta into a large bowl. Add the mozzarella and 3/4 cup of the sauce. Toss to distribute the cheese thoroughly through the pasta.

4. In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat a half-tablespoon of olive oil until aromatic. Add half of the pasta, stirring it with a kitchen fork to get a uniform thickness. Then leave it alone and cook until the bottom browns a little.

5. With a spatula (or a deft flick of the wrist, if you can manage that) turn the pasta over like a pancake. Spoon just enough of the sauce over the top that it doesn’t sink through to the bottom. Brown the bottom side. Slide onto a pizza pan or a large platter.

6. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with the second half of the pasta.

7. Spoon a little more of the sauce over the tops of the two spaghetti pizzas, and top with the Romano cheese. Cut into wedges and serve with forks. (You might be able to pick it up with your fingers, but you might not.)

Serves 8 appetizers or 4 entrees.

AlmanacSquare January 2, 2017

Happy New Year!

It’s 2019, the two hundred forty-second year of the United States, the two hundred third year of the statehood of Louisiana, the two hundred ninety-sixth year since the founding of New Orleans, the Chinese year of the Snake (starting February 10), Byzantine year 7521 (until September 14), Jewish year 5773 (until September 5), Islamic year 1434 (until November 4), and the thirty-eighth year of the publication of this periodical (starting January 4).

Seventh Day of Christmas

Here come the traditional seven swans a-swimming. Benny Grunch’s Seventeenth Street Canal, candles a-glowing, Allen Sherman’s pink satin pillow that said “San Diego” with fringe all around it, and our own seven cafe brulots. Swans are inedible, so we have nowhere to go with this one today.

Restaurant Anniversaries

Today in 2007, Galatoire’s reopened for the first time after the hurricane. It was the third of the four classic Creole-French restaurants to do so. Antoine’s was open three days before, and Arnaud’s a month earlier. Broussard’s would require several months more.

Annals Of Food Law

The Pure Food And Drug Act took effect in the United States today in 1907. The major problem that precipitated the Act was the horrible conditions in the meat-packing industry. Many of the standards that made the food supply safe in the following years remain today. It was revolutionary in its reach and effect.

Food Calendar

Today is both National Cabbage Day and National Black-Eye Pea Day. According to tradition, eating the two vegetables will bring you more money (cabbage) and luck (black-eyes). The connection between cabbage and money is obvious, but the luck of the blackeye pea has a story behind it. The tradition is primarily Southern, and is believed to date to the end of the Civil War. Union soldiers laid waste to food crops, but they believed that black-eye peas, field peas, and crowders (all members of the cowpea family) were raised as animal feed. So they left them alone, and the Southerners found in them a food supply. Supposedly.

Seared smoked tuna with black eye peas.

The Yankee disdain for black-eye peas was not unique. Even in families where blackeye peas are as inevitable on January 1 as the disposal of the old calendar, they’re often eaten only in maintenance of the tradition, in as small a portion as possible. Others of us like them. I personally like all the cowpeas as much as I do red and white beans–and I love those. Could be there’s a flavor in there received differently by different palates, as is true for broccoli and cauliflower and–come to think of it–cabbage.

Here’s one more interesting story about black-eye peas. The Babylonian Talmud makes reference to a Jewish custom of eating black-eye peas for luck at Rosh Hashanah–Jewish New Year. Even though that was months ago, I guess it could have made the jump to the goyim. Who knows?

Gourmet Gazetteer

Cabbage Grove, Florida is in the eastern Panhandle, forty-two miles southeast of Tallahassee. It’s in a vast coastal plain that used to be more intensively farmed than it is now, and where cabbage, broccoli, and other vegetables of that family were grown in large fields in the fall, alternating with tomatoes and other spring crops annually. It is far away from civilization now. The nearest restaurants are in twenty-seven miles away in Perry. Revells Oyster Bar and Grill sounds good, because the oyster beds of Apalachicola are nearby.

Edible Dictionary

hoppin’ john, n.–A dish made of blackeye peas and rice, with sausage or pork cooked in with the beans. It’s most popular in the Low Country of North Carolina, but eaten throughout the South, even in places that don’t use that name for the dish. As we don’t, very much, here in New Orleans. But we certainly eat our share of it, especially on New Year’s Day.

Food And Money

Today in 2002, the euro became the official currency of the European Union. It opened at the same value as the dollar, but in its first year or so it sank relative to the greenback. Oh, for those good old days. As the euro buys more and more dollars, everything from Europe has gone up in price, including wine, food, and travel.

Eating Around The World

George Town, in what is now the Penang state in Malaysia, was chartered today in 1957 by Queen Elizabeth II. Penang was a British colony at the time. Penang curry is one of the many varieties on Thai menus. It’s a light red-orange color, sometimes a touch sweet, and usually a little less spicy than the typical green or red Thai curries. Its distinction is an unusually broad range of spices, lending more complexity.

Food In Sports

Today in 1935, the first Sugar Bowl football game hit the gridiron in New Orleans. The very same day, the first Orange Bowl game kicked off in Miami.

Food Namesakes

Country Joe McDonald, whose rock group was called The Fish, was born today in 1942. He became famous largely because of his appearance at Woodstock. . . Los Angeles Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke fined all the players on his hockey team $100 for not arguing with the referee on what he considered a bad call. . . Film and television actor Morris Chestnut was born today in 1969.

Words To Eat By

“Cabbage: A familiar kitchen garden vegetable about as large and wise as a man’s head.”–Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary.

“Cabbage is best after it is reheated seven times.”–Slovakian folklore.

“Cabbage twice cooked is death.”–Greek folklore.

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