AlmanacSquare May 7, 2015

Days Until. . .

Mother’s Day 3
New Orleans Wine And Food Experience 14

Annals Of New Orleans

New Orleans was founded today in 1718. Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, chose a high spot in a sharp bend of the Mississippi River to begin a French colonial town. It’s where the French Quarter is now. He named the place for Duke of Orleans, Phillippe II, a flamboyant guy. The feminine form of the city’s French name–La Nouvelle Orleans–is a joke about his personality. Nobody questioned whether this were a good place to put a city, because it wasn’t a city yet. Without a doubt, the spot was a terrific port. That remains true to this day. So away we went! And note: the 300th anniversary is three years away!

Food Calendar

It’s National Leg of Lamb Day. Lamb legs are less expensive than lamb racks, but like the leg (round) of beef or veal, it’s best roasted in the oven. Unlike lamb shanks (which we’re seeing a lot more lately), a lamb leg doesn’t really need to be slowly cooked with a lot of moisture in the pan. However, I do think they’re better when marinated with garlic, rosemary, wine, and a bit of tomato.

One of the most interesting alternative methods I’ve seen for cooking a lamb leg is what the late Chef Chris Kerageorgiou used to do at La Provence. He’d cut the bone out, then stuff the center with an herbal lamb sausage. He’d wrap the leg back up again, then roast it and carve it across into discs of meat with the sausage in the center. That was seriously good.

The best side dishes with lamb leg are wild rice or roasted potatoes (on the starchy side) and mustard greens or broccoli raab (for greens). I like cooking those greens in the natural sauce that comes from roasting the lamb, with some crushed red pepper to jazz it up a bit.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:

Why doesn’t anyone make a roast leg of lamb poor boy sandwich? I’d bet that would be good, with lots of gravy, lettuce, tomatoes, and horseradish mayonnaise.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Mole (spelled but not pronounced like the Mexican sauce) is in northeastern Tennessee, up in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s eighty-two miles northeast of Knoxville. The two places are also connected by the Holston River, one of the two main tributaries of the Tennessee River. Mole is at the base of 1800-foot River Mountain, which forms a 600-foot bluff next to the Holston. Dramatic scenery around there. The flat river plain allows for extensive farming. The nearest restaurants are two miles away in Church Hill, where one of them–El Potrillo–may actually serve mole poblano.

Gourmets In Movies

George “Gabby” Hayes, who played the same crusty old cowboy galloot in dozens of westerns in the 1940s and 1950s, was born today in 1885. In real life he was the polar opposite of his movie character. He was renowned among his friends for dressing to the nines and dining in the finest restaurants. He made a fortune, lost it in the Depression, then made another.

World Records In Food


The world’s biggest swordfish catch occurred today in 1953 off the coast of Chile. The International Game Fish Association certified it at 1,182 pounds. Swordfish can occasionally get very big indeed. They have few natural enemies (the mako shark is its only serious threat). Still, enough swordfish are caught by fishermen to have depressed the population for awhile. It has since come back well enough that you can have swordfish once in awhile. We think the price ought to be legislated very high to keep the heat off these magnificent fish.

Gourmets On TV

Today is the birthday (1934) of Willard Scott, the long-time weatherman on the Today Show, who ate very well in his travels. He said, “If I go down for anything in history, I would like to be known as the person who convinced the American people that catfish is one of the finest eating fishes in the world.”

Philosophy Of Fine Living

Rabindranath Tagore, an Indian poet whose words were so profound that he is frequently quoted, was born today in 1861. Lines of his that get me out of bed every morning are:

I slept and dreamt that life was joy
I awoke and saw that life was duty.
I acted, and behold: duty was joy.

Music To Ride Trains By

Glenn Miller’s orchestra recorded Chattanooga Choo-Choo on this day in 1941. It was the first million-selling record in history. Its lyrics included these unforgettable lines, sung by Tex Benecke:

Dinner in the diner
Nothing could be finer
Than to have your ham and eggs in Carolina.

Ham and eggs on a train flashing across the Southern countryside is indeed a unique pleasure. You can have this experience any morning, when the Crescent leaves New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal for its daily ride to New York.

The Saints

This is the feast day of St. Duje, the bishop of Salona, (now in Croatia) in the third century. He is the patron saint of Split, Croatia, from which most of the Croatian immigrants living in the New Orleans area come. Many famous restaurants present and past around New Orleans trace their ancestries to the area around Split. Drago’s, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and Crescent City Steak House are among the living. Gentilich’s, Bozo’s, a different Drago’s from the one above, and Uglesich’s live on in the annals of extinct restaurants.

Restaurant Anniversaries

Speaking of Croatian restaurateurs: Today is the fifty-first anniversary of the opening of Mary Mahoney’s Old French House in Biloxi, on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It’s close enough to New Orleans that many of us are familiar with the restaurant. It’s operated by the Cvitanovich family, cousins of the Cvitanoviches who own Drago’s. Mary Mahoney’s history is distinguished by its having come back twice from major hurricane disasters. It was one of the first restaurants to return to Biloxi after the devastation of Katrina. Congratulations to them. If you go there to celebrate with them, everything you spend will go to the St. Vincent dePaul charitable organization.

On a sadder note, Andrew Cvitanovich–the brother of the eponymous Mary Mahoney and longtime co-owner of the restaurant–passed away Monday (May 5, 2014). He was in his mid-80s. Andrew, his sister and her husband Bob Mahoney opened the restaurant in the oldest house in Biloxi, selling their shrimp boat to gather the capital to open the restaurant.

Edible Dictionary

picnic wine, n.–An inexpensive, light, white or blush wine with low alcohol and a fruity, off-dry character, preferably with a screw cap, that can be served very cold from an ice chest. The primary quality of a picnic wine is that it’s refreshing and simple. The appeal of picnic wines increased enormously with the advent of White Zinfandel, whose characteristics all but define the genre. While any wine can be taken on a picnic, bottles in the picnic wine category seem to do their job so well that some people prefer them for outings on the grass. You’ll never see the words “picnic wine” on the bottle’s label–it’s considered something of a put-down. But such wines do have a place.

Food Namesakes

Donna Rice, whose affair with Gary Hart brought down his 1988 Presidential candidacy, was married to Jack Hughes today in 1994. . . Pitcher Larry Sherry and his catcher brother Norm became the first all-Jewish and the tenth brother pitcher-catcher battery in big-league history. . . Singer and pianist Eagle-Eye Cherry was born today in 1971. That’s really his name. . . Poet Robert Browning’s life had its first stanza in London today in 1812.

Words To Eat By

“That little lamb stew I had the other night was so wonderful that you could cuddle it in your arms.”–James Beard.

“At a dinner party one should eat wisely but not too well and talk well but not too wisely.”–W. Somerset Maugham.

Words To Drink By

“As you get older, you shouldn’t waste time drinking bad wine.”–Julia Child.