Diary For Two Days Before Christmas And Christmas Day. The Sunday before Christmas was typical. I sang at the ten o’clock Mass, then rendezvoused with Mary Ann at Ox Lot 9 for Sunday brunch. MA has taken such a liking to the Ox Lot–the restaurant in the Southern Hotel in downtown Covington–that we brunched there almost every Sunday for a month or so.
I was wondering when MA would chastise me for ordering the same dish every time we’ve been to the Ox Lot. She says that my reviews are somehow diluted if I go to places I’ve visited often before, or eat familiar dishes. I agree with this idea, but like every other bit of wisdom it has its exceptions. In this case, the repetitive dish is so exceptional that I can’t get enough of it. The Ox Lot calls it a frittata, which is something of a misnomer. It’s the fluffiest egg soufflee imaginable with embedded mushrooms and crabmeat. I’ve never had anything quite like it.
As for the venue. . . well, the reason we go there every week is that Herself loves the way the place looks. And there’s one other draw: a duet sings early jazz numbers live in the dining room. They let me sing a song now an then, and today was now. “Sweet Lorraine,” one of the best tunes in my repertoire, was today’s victim.
With us for the massacree were Chuck and Desiree Billeaud, friend since our daughters were in the same grammar school as ours. They’re among our very best friends, but we don’t see them as often as we should because a) Chuck spends a lot of time in Lafayette, where he oversees his family’s real estate, and 2) Chuck refuses to allow us to pay for our half (or any other percentage) of the restaurant check. (He covers the check, to make that clear. I mean, he doesn’t tell us to sneak out.)
Ox Lot 9. Covington: 428 E Boston St . 985-400-5663.
The Cooking Of Christmas Eve.
All her life until her parents passed away, Mary Ann spent Christmas Eve with them, her six siblings and their children. After a few years without a home, this tradition reverted to the home of Sylvia, MA’s eldest sister. Ultimately, Christmas Day moved to Sylvia’s house, where it will remain for the foreseeable future. Sylvia does only a little of the cooking, with the rest coming from other siblings, with us in a pivotal role. At the very least, we bring my famous root beer-glazed ham and the late Lonnie Knisley’s cheesecake. And macaroni and cheese, and cheese straws, both among MA’s essential favorites).
This year I was handed something else to play with for this Christmas Day dinner: three pounds of shrimp. MA peeled them and boiled them, while I made a batch of shrimp remoulade, made with the uniquely Creole reddish-orange remoulade sauce. I was inspired to make that because cellist Dan Lelchuk whipped up a batch of it in my presence yesterday. He said it came from my cookbook, where it is the very first recipe. Before that, it was made with a recipe demonstrated for my benefit by Willie Maylie, owner of the now-extinct, second-generation, established in 1876 restaurant on Poydras at O’Keefe.
It’s an easy recipe if you begin with peeled shrimp. You just mix the following ingredients:
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup Creole mustard
1 Tbs. paprika
1/2 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. Tabasco
1/2 tsp. pureed garlic
1/4 cup chopped celery or (better) finely chopped fennel
1/2 cup green onion tops, finely sliced
1 cup olive oil
Toss about two-thirds of this mixture with the shrimp in a big non-metallic bowl. Add more of the sauce, or more of the chili sauce, Creole mustard, or small amounts of lemon juice to your taste.
Not many people like the way this looks, but they are always blown away by the taste. I think it’s much better than the white, mayonnaise-based remoulade sauce, which is only slightly modified tartar sauce. Red remoulade is also uniquely New Orleans. You never find it anywhere else.
Singing Carols Twice On Christmas Eve. Four days ago, I missed the only organized rehearsal of the year for the family chorus of St. Jane de Chantal. I made up for that absence by singing at both the four p.m. and six p.m. vigil Masses on Christmas eve. For the four o’clock, the choir loft filled up with the overflow from the main parts of the church. Officially, two other choir singers and I provided the entire program of carols before the Mass, and all the other sung parts from the Mass itself. All grown-ups. (Our choir has a lot of young singers who come with their parents.) The six o’clock service was much less full, with only a young woman I didn’t recognize singing everything, and me.
We had a much bigger choir on Christmas Day, with singers coming from other parishes to flesh out the grandeur of the caroling. Since I didn’t make it to rehearsal, I found myself mistakenly singing parts reserved for female voices. But this was my third Mass of the day.
On this beautiful, cool, sunny day, all my singing was over and all our food cooked and loaded into two cars. When we arrived at Sylvia’s house, I started slicing up the root beer glazed ham and a twenty-two-pound turkey from Joe Impastato. Somehow I always wind up carving both the bird and the ham. Sylvia is a queen of cleanup, and she never stopped. The house was bubbling with little kids, running around and laughing at jokes only they understood. They’re about the same age as my grandsons Jackson and Bennett. What a riot that would have been if those two from Los Angeles had been with us. MA would surely have loved it.
But it’s a wonderful Christmas season for many reasons. More listenable Christmas music on the radio than ever before. More little kids. And three presents for me, not discovered until the day when my own radio show resumed on the day after Christmas.
Waiting for me under the tree (which hasn’t fallen down even once) were two pairs of pants with a waist size of 32, and an equally wishful sweater. This is how tight the Marys think my clothes should be. But even when I was a scrawny teenager, my smallest waist size was 36. Sometimes it’s hard to be a man in a house dominated by opinionated women.
It seems impossible, but this is the fifth year of Reveillon for Brennan’s on Royal Street, after three years of renovation. The premises are among the most handsome of restaurants, and among the most welcome. The price for the four-course dinner is $65. That includes lagniappes at the beginning and end.
It’s also worth knowing that we are in the final week of Reveillon. If you’re going to take advantage of this wonderful culinary tour de force, whether you’ve been to a few of the dinners or none, this is the time to do it. You could hardly pick a better choice among the 65 possibilities.
Brandy Milk Punch
Brandy, heavy cream, vanilla bean, nutmeg
Brennan’s Oyster Soup
Poached oyster, caviar, fennel, leeks
Poached eggs, Louisiana lump crabmeat, Vadouvan spiced cauliflower
Filet of Beef Roscoe
Seared foie gras, duck egg, garlic spinach, red wine sauce
Sticky Toffee Pudding
Toasted Medjool dates, Armagnac ice cream
Brennan’s. French Quarter: 417 Royal. 504-525-9711.
Reveillon season runs in most of the Reveillon restaurants until December 31.The snowflake ratings are for the Reveillon menu, not the restaurant in general. Dishes marked with the snowflake symbol ✽ are my recommendations.
December 27, 2017
The Second Day Of Christmas
From someone who regards you well, here come two turtledoves, Tujague’s recipe (for the crawfish they caught in Arabi), two candy canes, green polka-dot pajamas, or (in our own version of the song) two eggs Sardou.
It is also five days until New Year’s Eve. Which isn’t much time to get a dinner reservation if you’re going out. But plenty of time to procure a bottle of Champagne-style sparkling wine. Today’s recommendation: Gruet, made in New Mexico, of all places. But quite good! Basic non-vintage goes for under $20 a bottle.
Today in 1972, Bob Roth and Ernie Masson opened a new restaurant in Lakeview called The Steak Knife. This was a good combination. Roth had a popular bar in the affluent Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans. Masson’s Restaurant in West End was almost certainly the best first-class restaurant in that quadrant of the city. They served prime steaks, of course, but they also had a menu that covered all the other bases of local dining, too. It caught on as an upscale neighborhood restaurant, with a strong regular clientele.
After about a decade, Roth bought out Masson, and his sons and daughter moved into the operation. Their father passed away some years ago, but the Roth’s continue moving forward. In the 1990s The Steak Knife moved across the street from its original location (the old space is now Susan Spicer’s Mondo), and expanded into some private rooms with live music. The restaurant took a heavy hit from the Katrina flood, but like the rest of Lakeview it came back strong and as good as ever.
Food Through History
Today is the birthday, in 1740, of Jean Etienne de Boré, one of the most important figures in the early history of New Orleans. He was born in Illinois when it was still part of French Louisiana, and educated in France. He moved to New Orleans in 1776. On the parcel of land where Audubon Park is now (it was inherited by his wife), he started a plantation. He first grew indigo, but soon moved to sugar. He pioneered the process of granulation sugar, which revolutionized the sugar industry and made de Boré a wealthy man. When the United States took over the Louisiana Territory in 1803, Governor Claiborne named de Boré the first Mayor of New Orleans.
Benjamin Eisenstadt, the creator of Sweet ‘n’ Low,, was born today in 1906. The sweet stuff in the pink envelope was the first granular form of saccharin, which before that time came only as an inconvenient liquid or in pills so tiny that they were hard to use. When Sweet ‘n’ Low hit the market in 1957, Eisenstadt used the same packets he invented for sanitary portions of sugar. It was the packaging that made it the market leader. The pink packets have since dropped to number three behind the yellow and blue packets.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
When a morning has heavy frost, it’s time to schedule a time to defrost the freezer and throw away at least a third of what’s in it.
crosnes, [KRONE], French, n., pl.–Also known as Japanese or Chinese artichokes, chorogi, or knotroots. If you encounter this vegetable, you are in a produce department that’s really reaching for exotic items. It’s a tuberous root whose flavor resembles those of true artichoke bottoms and Jerusalem artichokes–neither of which is related to crosnes (or each other, for that matter). It’s in the mint family, and grows wild in China. Crosnes didn’t come to anyone’s consciousness until they began to be imported into France in the late 1800s. The town where they turned up and began to be cultivated gave the vegetable its name. Now that chefs are ever on the lookout for puzzling new ingredients, we shouldn’t be more than a year or so away from having crosnes turn up on our plates.
Ham Lake, Minnesota 55304 is twenty-four miles north of Minneapolis, and is an exurb of that city. It’s named for an actual lake, whose shape is like that of an actual ham. (Many of Minnesota’s famously numerous lakes are named for food because of their shapes.) The place to eat in Ham Lake is the Red Ox Cafe.
Deft Dining Rule #209:
When dining in a restaurant that covers its tablecloths with paper, don’t even give a thought to what might be on that cloth after being used by how many previous diners.
Food On The Air
The final broadcast of The Breakfast Club aired today in 1968. It was a music and variety program that ran on NBC Blue then on ABC radio every weekday morning for thirty-five years. It was the second-to-last gasp for network radio variety shows. (Arthur Godfrey Time would last another four years). A daily feature on The Breakfast Club was the walk around the breakfast table, to the accompaniment of the full live orchestra. The host throughout the entire run of the show was the good-natured Don McNeill. For most of its history, The Breakfast Club aired in New Orleans on my station–originally WSMB, now 105.3 FM, HD2).
Annals Of Teetotaling
Today in 1900, Carrie Nation–the most visible and fervent of the country’s growing number of prohibitionists–made her first raid on a hotel saloon in Wichita, Kansas. She carried the hatchet that would soon become her trademark, and broke every liquor bottle in the place. Even the hundred-year-old Cognac! Oh, the humanity!
It’s National Fruitcake Day. For the past few decades, fruitcake has been the butt of jokes. Or joke, really–that nobody eats them, they just recycle them to other people. The jokes are as stale as fruitcake is reputed to be. In fact, all the fruitcake that has come my way in recent years has been very good. The one I particularly like is the Creole Royale fruitcake, made by Baker Maid Products, located in downtown New Orleans. Its green cans feature a painting of St. Louis Cathedral. All localism aside, this is an excellent product. (Assuming you have a taste for fruitcake.)
Annals Of Food Research
The father of modern food safety was Louis Pasteur, born today in 1822. He invented the process that bears his name. It was originally used for milk, but it was so effective in slowing spoilage in other foods that it’s become universal. For all that, it’s considered a negative in gourmet circles. Pasteurized cheese, crabmeat, wine (there is such a thing–mostly from kosher wineries) and beer are all thought of as inferior to their non-pasteurized equivalents. Still, our food supply would be much leaner and more hazardous without pasteurization. Pasteur was also the author of one of the best short pieces of advice: “Chance favors only the prepared mind.”
Two pro football players with edible fish names were born on this date: Mike Salmon, a safety for the 49ers, among other teams, in 1970. And Buffalo’s Mark Pike, 1963. . . Union Brigadier General James Clay Rice was born in 1829 today. . . Now we have two guys named James Mead. The first is a former U.S. Senator from New York, born today in 1885. . . the other is guitarist with the Christian rock band Kutless, and born today in 1982.
Words To Eat By
“I have seen purer liquors, better segars [sic], finer tobacco, truer guns and pistols, larger dirks and bowie knives, and prettier courtesans here in San Francisco than in any other place I have ever visited. . . California can and does furnish the best bad things that are available in America.”–Hinton Helper, a writer born today in 1829.
Words To Drink By
“As we start the New Year, let’s get down on our knees to thank God we’re on our feet.”–Irish proverb.