July 20

Creme Brulee

Today is <strong>National Creme Brulee Day. </strong>Creme brulee is an enriched version of caramel custard, with the caramel transferred from the bottom of the baking dish to the top, in the form of a crust of lightly browned sugar. That's the brulee part; the word means "burned." Sometimes it is. The texture of the crust varies greatly. Some makers have a granular topping; in other places, the sugar melts and then re-solidified with a glassy quality. If you encounter one of those, be careful. A shard of this crust cut the inside of my mouth badly once.

Days Until. . .

Food Calendar

Today is National Creme Brulee Day. Creme brulee is an enriched version of caramel custard, with the caramel transferred from the bottom of the baking dish to the top, in the form of a crust of lightly browned sugar. That's the brulee part; the word means "burned." Sometimes it is. The texture of the crust varies greatly. Some makers have a granular topping; in other places, the sugar melts and then re-solidified with a glassy quality. If you encounter one of those, be careful. A shard of this crust cut the inside of my mouth badly once. The creme brulee concept goes back to at least the 1600s in France. Originally, a white-hot poker pulled from the fire was used to brulee the top. The custard is made with cream instead of the milk used for caramel custard. That keeps it from setting completely. A well-made creme brulee will flow, if very thickly and slowly. The first New Orleans restaurant to serve creme brulee in modern times was Arnaud's. Now creme brulee has supplanted caramel custard in most of its former range.

Looking Up

This is Moon Day, the day Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in 1969. A historic event of great importance but few repercussions. What do we do, foodwise? Eat a Moon Pie? The old Charlie's Delicatessen used to make a muffuletta-like sandwich called "The Moon," but Charlie's did not cross over the fold in our history made by Katrina.

Annals Of Oenophilia

Max Zander was born today in 1920. He was the longtime head of Heritage House, New Orleans' biggest wine wholesaler. Decades before fine wine made its way onto the tables of the mainstream local populace, Max was hosting wine classes, wine dinners and tastings, inspiring people to enhance their lives with good wine. He was accessible and likable, never displaying a hint of the snobbery that scares so many people away from wine. He was as quick to recommend affordable wines as the world's best. He knew about it all, and shared his knowledge, sophistication, love of life, and friendship with anyone who wanted it. He passed away in 2009, leaving behind a legacy of wine appreciation matched by nobody else in our city.

Annals Of Cheese

On this date in 1801, a thankful Elisha Brown Jr., a farmer, made a ball of cheese weighing nearly a ton. He delivered it to Thomas Jefferson. The president found it overripe. . . More important to us today is what Jesse Williams did at his farm in Rome, New York on this date in 1851. He created the first American cheese factory. Its cheese was uniform in texture, color, and flavor, very much unlike Elisha Brown's cheeseball, which was made (as most large cheeses were) by pressing many small cheeses together.

Roots Of Our Cuisine

Yugoslavia was born today in 1917. The Pact of Corfu among the Slovenes, Croatians, and Serbs united their countries into one. It didn't work in the long term, and now each of those groups has its own country again. During much of the history of Drago's restaurant, it claimed to serve Yugoslavian food. Now it doesn't, but it does claim Croatian roots.

Edible Dictionary

speckled trout, n.--The common name used along the Gulf coast for what the fish experts call "spotted seatrout." It's not a member of the trout family (true trout are freshwater fish in the salmon family), but are related to drumfish. (They actually do make a drumming sound when they're spawning.) Most specimens are between one and three pounds, although they can grow larger. Its flesh is just off white and very flaky. It is considered a prize catch for eating by fishermen. For over a century it was the favorite fish in New Orleans white-tablecloth restaurants. Overfishing and the resulting over-zealous laws restricted the commercial catch so much that speckled trout has become a rarity in New Orleans. The greatest availability on menus is in late fall into early spring.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Soup Creek runs into a reservoir in one of the uppermost stretches of the Missouri River nineteen miles northeast of Helena, Montana. It rises on the south slope of Hogback Mountain at 7000 feet. Then its water travels twenty miles, dropping 3500 feet, before entering the Missouri to begin its long journey to New Orleans. It's a seven-mile hike from the end of Soup Creek to a place that can serve a bowl of soup: the Red Fix Inn, in the suburbs of Helena.

Food Namesakes

Paul Cook, the drummer of the Sex Pistols, was born today in 1956. . . .The Champagne Lady, Jo Ann Campbell, who appeared on most of Lawrence Welk's TV shows, was born today in 1938. . . American novelist Thomas Berger opened his first page today in 1924. . . .German actor Kurt Raab sprouted today in 1941. (Raab is another name for the vegetable broccoli di rape.)

Words To Eat By

"Banish the onion from the kitchen and the pleasure flies with it. Its presence lends color and enchantment to the most modest dish; its absence reduces the rarest delicacy to hopeless insipidity, and dinner to despair."--Elizabeth Robbins Pennell, American writer, 1855-1936.

Words To Drink By

"The relationship between a Russian and a bottle of vodka is almost mystical."--Richard Owen, British zoologist, born today in 1804.