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Diary For Fri., 1/4/2019: How About A Cruise Through Alaska?

After the New England-Canada cruise of a few months ago, I told Mary Ann that I would never organize another one. While only a few minor problems turned up during that trip, pulling all the details together was grueling work for months. Certainly a long way from being a vacation. We let our travel agent Debbie Himbert know that no matter what she had planned for a next cruise, we weren’t going to host it. I figured that would keep her at bay for the foreseeable future.

I figured wrong. She says that she could sell sno-balls to Eskimos. (Her actual words are a little profane for me.) Today, while I ate a ham and corned beef sandwich (made with my house-smoked corned beef!), I read a proposal from Debbie for a cruise to Alaska on the first ship in the magnificent Cunard fleet to go to Alaska in over twenty years. Cunard is by far my favorite cruise line, with service in the old style. The kind of ships on board which I will not only bring my tuxedo but wear it gladly several times. It has a touch of Great Britain.

The Queen Elizabeth 2 is the only Cunard ship we have not traveled upon. It is coming to the end of its around-the-world journey. It will be in position in late June 2019 to give us a ten-night round trip starting and ending in Vancouver, Canada–a great food city on its own. And one can’t say enough about the scenery of Alaska itself.

Everything about this route appealed to me. I brought it up over breakfast with Mary Ann, who I expected would laugh about the idea–especially in light of my swearing that I would never lead a cruise group again. But she’s always full of surprises. As she ate her pancakes and I my omelette at Mattina Bella, she said that Debbie had also sent her an e-mail about the Cunard Alaska cruise, and that she thought it would be a great idea. Within minutes, we had run the numbers and saw nothing but potential. As it was, without my so much as mentioning another cruise to anywhere, several of my readers and radio listeners had asked me whether I’d ever been to Alaska. (We have–twice.)

So, I spent too much of the rest of the day pulling the details together and assembling a promotion. By the end of Sunday, it was on the website (https://nomenu.com/alaska) and several people had asked for brochures.

Here we go again after all!

Sat., 1/5/2019: Prime Ribeye Steak At (!) DiMartino’s. Swapping Stories About Diamond Jim.

Diamond Jim Moran was one of the most successful and unique figures in the all-time lineup of New Orleans restaurateurs. In the middling-early days of the 1900s, with the New Orleans Italian population in large control of the French Quarter, Diamond Jim (born Giacomo Brocato) owned a number of restaurants. The most famous of them was La Louisiane, an establishment assembled by none other than Antoine Alciatore, founder of Antoine’s. (Another Italian name that became French when its owner became prominent.)

La Louisiane was where the parking garage for Mr. B’s is now. In its heyday of the 1930s through the 1970s, it was a beautiful property, with crystal Baccarat chandeliers and a courtyard. And it’s where Diamond Jim set the standards for fine New Orleans restaurants.

But I’m going to stop telling this fascinating story right here, and leave it to Bobby Brocato. He wants to write a book about Diamond Jim. He and his publisher Roger Bull (who says that his unusual name goes back centuries in this country) asked me to tell what I know about Diamond Jim. I have more than a few stories, most of which are in-person conversations I had with Jimmy Moran Jr., who took over La Louisiane from his glittering father. Bobby also has a large trove of photographs of Diamond Jim and his restaurants. Bobby has everything he needs to write a great book, in the same realm as the late Ella Brennan’s recent autobiography.

Chicken Caesar Salad @ DiMartino’s

I gave Brocato and Bull (now there is a great restaurant name waiting to be used!) enough material for them to pay for my dinner. It was a USDA Prime ribeye steak, and Peter DiMartino–owner of DiMartino’s, and creator of an almost-franchised restaurant specializing in muffuletta sandwiches. The location of DiMartini’s is in Covington, and is so good-looking and comfortable eatery that the muffulettas, roast beef poor boys, grilled redfish, and now the steaks don’t seem to go with the full menu of Sicilian dishes. But they do, and now DiMartino’s has become popular at dinner, especially on weekends. As it was this night.

DiMartino’s. Covington: 700 S Tyler St. 985-276-6460.


Beef Stew

This is a hybrid of the traditional American beef stew with a Creole-tinged beef Bourguignonne, the classic French dish. For all the fanciness of that French name, this is a simple stew of beef in an interestingly-seasoned red-wine sauce with mushrooms. Every now and then I get a taste for this, and all the time it takes to make it suddenly becomes of no significance. It may well be better the second day.

If you have a slow cooker, you might find that a good tool for Steps 5-6. The cooking will be more uniform, and may take less time.

In New Orleans, beef stew is always served over rice, even if it includes potatoes. This will cause consternation to friends who may recently be from the northerly regions.

Beef stew

  • 1/4 lb. bacon
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 2 lbs. beef round or chuck, cut into one-inch cubes
  • 2 Tbs. vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups coarsely-chopped onion
  • 1 crushed large garlic clove
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, chopped coarsely
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 2/3 cup tomato puree
  • 2 cups beef stock (or water)
  • 1/4 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. marjoram
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. Louisiana hot sauce
  • 1 cup sliced carrots
  • 2 cups cleaned, quartered mushrooms
  • 2 lbs. new potatoes, quartered
  • 1 large turnip, cubed
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 sprigs parsley, leaves only
  • 2 cups cooked long-grain rice

1. In a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, fry the bacon until only partly crisp. Remove bacon but leave the rendered fat.

2. Combine flour and 1/2 tsp. salt. Dust the beef with the flour mixture.

3. Add the oil to the bacon drippings and heat until almost smoking. Brown the beef on all sides, then remove from the pan. Pour off the excess oil, but don’t wipe the pan.

4. Lower the heat to medium. Add onions, garlic, and bell pepper, and cook until soft. Add the wine and bring it to a light boil. Stir the pot to dissolve the browned bits at the bottom into the wine. Let the wine boil for about five minutes.

5. Add the tomato puree, beef stock, thyme, marjoram, bay leaf, black pepper, paprika and Worcestershire. Add the remaining salt, the beef and the bacon. Heat to boiling, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer gently, covered, for about an hour, stirring now and then. If the mixture seems to be getting dry, add a little more water or stock.

6. Bring a pot of water to a boil and cook the carrots, potatoes, and turnip. Cook until tender–about 20 minutes. Drain, then add to the stew pot, along with the peas, mushrooms and parsley. Continue simmering until the mushrooms are tender and the starchy vegetables have begun to absorb the sauce.

Serve over rice.

Serves four to six.

AlmanacSquare January 8, 2017

Upcoming Deliciousness

Mardi Gras March 5.
Got Gumbo Competition Feb. 7.

Annals Of Bacon And Beans

The Battle of New Orleans was fought in the vicinity of Chalmette two hundred years ago today. It was the the last battle in the War of 1812. The war had already ended, but word hadn’t reached the 7500 British troops. They slogged through the swamps in what is now St. Bernard Parish, where they met defeat in Chalmette by Andrew Jackson’s collection of 3100 back-bayou defenders. Who took a little bacon and a little beans, so that a rhyme could be made with a mispronunciation of “New Orleans.” The battle was a rout, with 2000 British killed. It turned Andrew Jackson into a hero both here and nationally. His statue stands in the most prominent possible place in New Orleans.

Today’s Flavor

Today is National Vol-Au-Vent Day. Or, to translate into Creole, Pattie Shell Day. Made in sizes from that of a thimble to that of a coffee mug, vol-au-vents are made of two layers of puff pastry cut into circles. The top layer has a hole cut in the center. When stacked and then baked, they become cups to contain concoctions that typically run to the rich and saucy. The name translates “fly on the wind,” which suggests the ideal lightness of these puff pastry cups.

Unlike the smaller patty shells, vol-au-vents are usually made with a cap of pastry to cover the contents to keep them from cooling. The cap is always tilted off center, so the contents inside the vol-au-vent can be seen. Larousse Gastronomique says that vol-au-vents were invented and named by Marie-Antoine Careme, famous French chef and author of the nineteenth century.

Puff Pastry Shell, also known as vol-au-vents.

In New Orleans, vol-au-vents are most often made into a dish called oyster patties–little vol-au-vents filled with oysters in thick sauce, baked a little more to make them crusty. Nine out of ten of these are terrible, usually because the the sauce is too thick. In the hands of a skillful chef, however, vol-au-vents can be fantastic. The best I ever had was a sweetbreads and mushroom dish made by Chef Denis Rety at the short-lived but brilliant Le Chateau in Gretna. The vol-au-vent was about five inches across and three inches deep, and was delicious enough to compete with the goodness of the creamy sauce and rich sweetbreads. You’d never know it was a close cousin to the gross little oyster patties forced upon you at wedding receptions.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

If you have a delicious dish whose consistency registers as glop to some diners, and if it doesn’t seem right to serve over rice or pasta, bake it in a vol-au-vent. Everyone will find it very fancy.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Gravy Branch is a two-mile creek running down from the mountains in the southeastern corner of Kentucky, where Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina come together. It’s an area full of places with food names. Gravy Branch forms Gravy Hollow, a wooded area with strip mines nearby. It has a number of house trailers along the road that heads up to the strip mines. All of this is in the Pine Mountains, in the headwaters of the Tennessee River. The nearest restaurant is the well-named Country Kitchen, four miles away as the crow flies, but a looping eleven-mile drive to its location in Flat Lick.

Edible Dictionary

barigoule, [bah-ree-GOOL], French, n.–The first person to put artichokes and mushrooms together in a cooked dish was onto something. A barigoule is a braised artichoke cooked in a vegetable stock flavored with savory and root vegetables, wine. The original version, according to Sharon Tyler Herbst’s Food Lover’s Companion, used mushrooms known in Provencal dialect as barigoules as a stuffing. Oddly, mushrooms are not usually a part of the dish anymore, having given way to Italian influences that bring it in the direction of the familiar New Orleans-Sicilian mixture of bread crumbs, garlic, herbs, and parmesan cheese.

Annals Of Candy

Walter E. Diemer, the inventor of bubble gum, was born today in 1905. (He also died on this date, in 1998.) Diemer was working for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company as a bookkeeper, but his interest in the product was fervent enough that he often fooled around in the test kitchen. He made a five-pound sample of pink gum that was both softer and more stretchable than standard gum base. It was tested in a store in Philadelphia, and became an immediate hit. Diemer not only created the gum but the technique for blowing gum bubbles, which he had to teach to his salesmen. He said that the most amazing thing about his gum was not its popularity but the fact that most of it is still pink, as if that were part of its essence. Fleer still makes Dubble Bubble.

Food At Sea

Today in 2004, the RMS Queen Mary 2 was christened by Queen Elizabeth II, the granddaughter of Queen Mary. At the time, it was the largest cruise ship in the world, and hailed as the peak of luxury. The Eat Club has traveled on the QM2 twice: an Atlantic crossing and a cruise from New York to Quebec and back. The latter was among of the most enjoyable cruises we have ever taken.

Music To Eat Banana Sandwiches By

Today is Elvis Presley’s birthday, in 1935. About twenty-five years ago a line of wines bearing Elvis’s name and likeness appeared. “Was this Elvis’s favorite wine?” I asked the distributor. “Elvis didn’t drink wine,” he said. “But if he had, this is the wine he would have liked.”

The Saints

This is the feast day of Saint Erhard of Regensburg, who lived in Bavaria in the 600s. He is one of many patron saints of bakers.

Politics And Food

Tonight in 1992, the first President Bush, attending a state dinner in Tokyo, became nauseous and lost his lunch in the lap of the Japanese Prime Minister. The White House explanation was that Bush had stomach flu, a euphemism for food poisoning. Make up your own sushi joke.

Food Namesakes

Soupy Sales, a deliciously wacko comedian who was on TV a lot in the 1960s–frequently with a pie flying in the direction of someone’s face–was born today in 1926. . . Bill Graham, the leading impresario of rock music in San Francisco in the Summer of Love (1967), began his trip today in 1931.

Words To Eat By

“All knives and forks were working away at a rate that was quite alarming; very few words were spoken; and everybody seemed to eat his utmost, in self-defense, as if a famine were expected to set in before breakfast time tomorrow morning, and it had become high time to assert the first law of nature.”–Charles Dickens, referring to the way we eat in America.

Words To Drink By

“Americans may be drinking fewer alcoholic beverages, but they are certainly eating more of them than ever before. Wittingly or un.”–Marian Burros, food writer for the New York Times.

One Day Late

Yesterday, the Monday after Epiphany, is Plow Day. That’s the day when farmers return to work after the twelve days of Christmas, plus whatever else the calendar allows them to get away with–one day, this year. Here in New Orleans, we wind up postponing anything serious for a month or two longer. Epiphany is the first day of Carnival, and we turn a lot of our attention to that celebration. So, if we did do any plowing around here, it wouldn’t get started in earnest until Ash Wednesday.

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