Sunday, December 25, 2016.
Christmas In Latin.
Our plan for Christmas Day begins with the unwrapping of the single present under the tree, from the Marys to me. It’s a “Nespresso” coffee making machine, a gadget that Jude discovered while hanging around in Beverly Hills. I got hooked on the highly flavorful coffees it makes at his house, and I must have talked about it enough that the girls thought it would make a great gift for me.
I told them that it was too expensive, that chicory-blend coffee would certainly not be available for the Nespresso’s coffee pods, and that I have nowhere to put the thing in our kitchen. I would later change my mind when I saw how disappointed the Marys were that I wasn’t delighted.
I did my Christmas religious obligations last afternoon, singing with the choir. As usual, the Marys did not come along. They now must search for a church at an hour when most parishes are finished for the day. But St. Jane’s still had one more Mass. And we arrived on time (something MA is very bad about) and found many available openings in the pews.
We soon learn why: this Mass is in Latin, with all the other pre-Vatican-II rituals. The presiding priest not only has all the Latin down, but he and a small choir sing all the Latin readings. This would be a very long service. MA has much to cook at home. Twenty minutes into the service the Marys leave. I stay because a) I know most of the Latin and thought it would be interesting to sing it and 2) all my cookery is ready to go and iii) I cannot leave in the middle of a Mass. Too many people recognize me. Too bad that one person can’t take up the obligations of another in this regard, because I have an extra Mass Attendance note.
The family Christmas dinner is at the home of Mary Ann’s big sister Sylvia. It is well-attended by MA’s family, especially the little ones who put on a nonstop performance throughout the whole afternoon. Some of these kids came in from out of town, and we haven’t seen them in awhile. One of the smaller ones declared himself the host of the show, telling the adults when to clap their hands after the latest gymnastics. It was a laugh riot for everybody.
I keep myself busy carving the root beer-glazed ham. Which, if I say so myself, came out better than any previous. I was then pressed into service carving a turkey from Impastato’s. Mary Ann unloaded her half-dozen or so dips and side dishes. Her brother Pat brought in the usual vat of macaroni and cheese. Sylvia had some delicious little crabmeat pastries. Somebody brought a pair of very good pecan pies. I cut away the discolored part of my cheesecake. The rest of it engendered no distress from the eaters, and the cheesecake lovers tell me they find the texture alluring.
Mary Leigh heads back to her apartment when darkness sets in. MA and I head home, talking most of the way about how different all of this is from the twenty-five previous family Christmases. And wonder how it will be to have our first grandchild with us in a couple of days.
Monday, December 26, 2016.
Nothing Doing On The Air.
When I began my broadcasting career in the early 1970s, radio stations took themselves much more seriously than they do today. Even on a super-holiday like Christmas, the stations’ programs would keep on coming as usual, always live, unchanged in content unless it was interrupted by special Christmas programming or football games. I specifically remember hearing talk host Eric Tracy carrying on his WWL program through a 1975 Christmas afternoon. A few years later, I found myself doing the same thing on WGSO-1280.
But those were the days when AM radio was king, and the schedule had to be met. Now, even the powerhouse WWL covers its hours of Christmas-day broadcasting with unhosted Christmas music. One guy was at the station to push the buttons now and then, but otherwise the studios are empty.
So why was I surprised when, at my usual three-p.m. sign-on time, I found nobody at the station? Except that one button-pusher, who told me that my station was running continuous feeds from NBC Sports Radio? I had the day off. My bad for not checking this days ago. Well, at least I hadn’t driven into town.
Jude and his family came in that afternoon. It was our grandson Jackson’s first visit to New Orleans. I’m sure there will be many more, but he’s only one year old now, and moving kids that age around is challenging. The carriage alone is a bother.
MA is thrilled, of course. It’s as if she were put on earth to snuggle up with this blue-eyed, red-head baby boy. Who, as usual, took everything in stride–including the flight from Los Angeles. In the rain.
By the time the trio checked into the Southern Hotel in old Covington, the hour was late and there was no restaurant to be found. MA and I had lunch early that afternoon at New Orleans Food and Spirits. (Grilled oysters for her, red beans and sausage for me.) She went to the hotel to find everyone zonked out for the day. We would all meet for breakfast tomorrow.
At home, I fall asleep at my desk while trying to get a NOMenuDaily edition started up for tomorrow. That would happen every day this week. I try to keep my eyes open by listening to Christmas music, but it seems to have become a soporific. I would have been fired five times in the old days.
Metairie 2: Orleans Line To Houma Blvd: 3216 West Esplanade Ave. 504-304-1469. Map.
AE MC V
ANECDOTES AND ANALYSIS
The neighborhood cafes so much liked in New Orleans proper are not in common in the neighborhoods of Metairie. Part of this is because of the many national chain restaurants in all the local suburbs. The independent eateries that do manage to break through are often fun and good to find. Bistro Orleans is one such. In a strip mall space that was home for a number of good to superb cafes over the years, Bistro Orleans has that blend of seafood, sandwiches and Italian food which, with a few daily specials, add up to the neighborhood flavor.
WHY IT’S NOTEWORTHY
As the name “bistro” suggests, there is more to the kitchen here than the basics. They buy better ingredients than one might expect to find, and sell them at prices a bit higher than other neighborhood cafes offer. Although the seafood in particular is a good bet, there is room for some polish.
Fried Des Allemands catfish platter.
Bananas foster, prepared with one hand by Chef Archie.
The kitchen’s specialties are concentrated in a few clusters of similar dishes. They make an excellent red sauce, giving birth to a dozen or so good pasta dishes with a wide range of proteins. The seafood platters could be cooked with a bit more boldness, but they already achieve some distinction. The catfish is wild-caught from Des Allemands–a claim very few restaurants can make. A full-fledged oyster bar greets you on the way in, promising the bivalves on the half-shell as well as a host of grilled and bakes oyster dishes. Daily specials are attractive for both their goodness and their value.
In 2012, Bistro Orleans began its life in a well-worn space hidden behind East Jefferson Hospital off the main traffic streams. In 2014 it moved to a much more agreeable spot on West Esplanade, just off Causeway Boulevard. That address resonates with memories of past restaurants there, notably the extinct five-star French restaurant Crozier’s. For the last five or six years it was Chad’s Bistro, whose fried seafood boats brought a good bit of attention.
Anyone who ever dined at the old Crozier’s will recognize the layout and decor, with a big main dining room and a smaller one right behind it. Sets of walls with a cross-shaped footprint make the big room’s tables more intimate. The oyster bar is the first thing you see. Behind it is the liquor bar, which almost seems to be in a different suite. A few nights a week there is live music.
FULL ONLINE MENU
Crab cake, artichoke sauce
Calamari, fried, marinara sauce
Hearts of artichoke, fried, marinara sauce
Grilled stuffed mushrooms
Chicken and andouille gumbo
Cream of oyster and artichoke soup
Red beans and rice, sausage or pork chop
Veal, eggplant or chicken parmesan
Crawfish Madeline (crawfish, artichokes, eggplant medallions, pasta, cream sauce
Spaghetti and meatballs or Italian sausage
Breaded veal cutlet, fettuccine Alfredo
Boats of fried oysters, shrimp, or catfish
Fried catfish, oyster, shrimp or combo platters
Fried shrimp, crawfish, catfish or oyster poor boy
Roast beef poor boy
Meatball poor boy
Italian sausage marinara poor boy
FOR BEST RESULTS
They run many good daily specials here, notably involving oysters and catfish.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Consistency is less than perfect. Across the menu. The best dishes are very good indeed, but others (seafood gumbo being the most notorious) could use new recipes. The cocktail bar is in need of enhancement of its range of skills. If the place has a web site, it has hidden it very well.
FACTORS OTHER THAN FOOD
Up to three points, positive or negative, for these characteristics. Absence of points denotes average performance in the matter.
Dining Environment +1
Wine & Bar
Local Color +1
Live music some nights
Outdoor tables, drinks only
Open Sunday lunch and dinner
Open Monday lunch and dinner
Open all afternoon
Oyster bar (Thursdays)
Unusually large servings
Good for children
Easy, nearby parking
Eggs Sardou is probably the most popular fancy egg dish in New Orleans. Its presence has expanded into a fixture at Sunday brunch restaurants across the country. It was invented by Antoine’s in honor of the French playwright Victorien Sardou. But the recipe as we know it today was Brennan’s version, which added creamed spinach.
Poaching eggs requires the freshest eggs available. Only then will you be able to make the yolks stand up like golf balls instead of slouch down. That’s why restaurants do that and you usually can’t. Also, it’s best to make eggs Sardou when you have access to fresh artichoke bottoms.
Egg Sardou at the old Brennan’s.
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup milk
1/2 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. white pepper
2 10-ounce bags fresh spinach
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs. red wine vinegar
1 stick butter, softened
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. vinegar
8 very fresh jumbo eggs
8 fresh artichoke bottoms from steamed artichokes
1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and whisk into the butter, as if making a roux. Cook until the texture changes, but don’t allow the mixture to begin to brown.
2. Remove from the heat. Add the milk and whisk until you have a thick bechamel, the texture of loose mashed potatoes. Add the salt, white pepper, and nutmeg.
3. Wash the spinach well but leave dripping wet. In a saucepan over medium-low heat, covered, cook the spinach until just tender. Remove the spinach from the pan. Squeeze out any excess water. Chop in a food processor, or by hand.
4. Stir the spinach into the bechamel until well blended.
1. Whisk the egg yolks and the vinegar briskly in a metal bowl set over a saucepan with about an inch of simmering water at the bottom. If you see even a hint of curdling in the eggs, take the bowl off the heat, but keep whisking. Keep going back and forth from the heat until the mixture turns thick and lightens in color. Whisk in a tablespoon of warm water.
2. Begin adding the softened butter, a pat at a time. After about a fourth of the butter is in there, you’ll begin to see a change in the texture of the sauce. At that point, you can step up the addition of the butter a bit, and keep going till all the butter is incorporated.
3. Whisk in the cayenne and the lemon juice. Set the bowl in a bigger bowl of warm (not hot!) water and cover with plastic wrap.
1. Use a large stainless-steel skillet filled with water about an inch and a half deep. Bring it to a boil while dissolving the salt into it and adding the vinegar.
2. The hard part of poaching eggs is keeping them together as you add them to the pan. The best trick is to use a coffee cup–the kind that narrows at the bottom. Break one egg into each of four cups. (Or eight, if your skillet is big enough to fit all those eggs.)
3. When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat to the lowest possible setting. Slide the eggs carefully into the pan, two (or four, even) at a time. Let them simmer for three to four minutes, depending on the size of the eggs.
4. The best tool to remove the eggs with is a round skimmer with holes in it, or a large slotted spoon. Carefully remove one at a time, and let the excess water drip off.
5. Place about two tablespoons of creamed spinach into each artichoke bottom, making a depression in the center of the spinach. Slide a freshly-poached egg atop the spinach, then top with hollandaise. Repeat for all the other artichoke bottoms, two to a plate.Serves four
Cafe Brulot @ Arnaud’s
Cafe brulot diabolique (“the burning coffee of the devil”) was made popular at and possibly even created by Antoine’s. However, every restaurant with even a touch of local culinary tradition serves it. It begins with aromatic spices, sugar, orange juice and oil from the orange peel, and brandy. The latter is set aflame. At Arnaud’s–which brings cafe brulot to the apex–the flames climb up the coiled skin of the orange, studded with cloves. It makes the whole dining room smell good. The coffee is poured in to douse the flames, and the resulting potion is served as a hot after-dinner drink. Wonderful at Christmastime especially, but a celebration all the rest of the year.
Cafe Brulot @ Arnaud’s.
Arnaud’s. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433.
This is among the 500 best dishes in New Orleans area restaurants. Click here for a list of the other 499.
December 30, 2016
Days Until. . .
New Year’s Eve 1.
Carnival Begins 6.
The Fifth Day of Christmas
Five golden rings? This is getting expensive. Also today: five silver bells (Andy Williams), a statue of a naked lady with a clock where her stomach ought to be (Allan Sherman), fried onion rings (Benny Grunch), and five soft-shell crabs (my version).
This is Mushrooms, Cream, And Pasta Day. That’s an interesting free-form observance. But it sounds right. Something light in texture (if not in calories and fat) and simple between the feasting of Christmas and the feasting of New Year’s Eve. This can be as simple as cooking some onions and parsley in a little olive oil, adding the sliced mushrooms and cooking until they get soft, adding reduced cream from that second saucepan on the back of the stove, a little salt and pepper. Add the cooked fettuccine noodles (or the pappardelle, or even torn rags of sheet pasta) and toss them with the sauce until the pasta is coated. Shaved Grana Padano cheese. Nice. Or, if you want to get ambitious, make a duxelles (a fancy word for finely chopped mushrooms and onions, in a three-to-one ratio) and stuff it into ravioli, preferably with homemade pasta. Same cream sauce. My wife made that a couple of days ago, having never done it before, and it was not only delicious but soothing and comfortable.
Greensburg is a quaint town in the Florida Parishes of Southeast Louisiana, thirty-seven miles northeast of Baton Rouge. The population is about 650 people, most of whom serve the needs of the many dairy farmers and foresters in the vicinity. The countryside is rolling and open, and driving there is pleasant. It is a virtual certainty that more greens are consumed in Greensburg than in the average U.S. town, along with more beans and rice. The restaurant in Greensburg is Hank’s Deli, right in the center of town.
The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Step One in cooking a cabbage is to cut out the cone-shaped stem from the center. Step Two: Cut it into eight wedges: two cuts top to bottom, one around the equator. Steaming works better than boiling. The gentler you do it, the fewer problems–and you know what problems I mean.
balsamic vinegar, n.–Wine vinegar with a dark color and a vaguely sweet flavor. In its most traditional form, it’s made by aging vinegar on oak barrels, sometimes for a very long time. There is such a thing as 100-year-old balsamic vinegar. It is very dark, intensely flavored, and as thick as syrup. Balsamic vinegar traditionally is made directly from grape juice, not stopping at the wine stage. It takes on a dark brown color from the aging. Balsamic vinegar has such a lofty reputation that it has many inexpensive imitators, colored with caramel and not aged much, if at all. The price is usually a guide as to whether it’s really aged or not. The name “balsamic” is a reference to the medicinal qualities aged vinegar is reputed to have.
Deft Dining Rule #212:
Any restaurant with four or more different kinds of fresh mushrooms is a place worth dining in.
Annals Of Soft Drinks
It’s the birthday (1851) of Asa Candler, who bought a formula called Coca-Cola from Atlanta druggist John Pemberton for all of $2300. He began marketing it aggressively, and the result was that, although Coke wasn’t the first fizzy brown sweet drink (Dr Pepper, among other brands, is older), it became the icon of the industry.
Food And Medicine
Today in 2003, the sale of meat from animals who appeared to be sick was banned in the United States. It was mostly a protection from mad cow disease. . . Ephedra was also banned that day, after 155 deaths were attributed to the weight-loss dietary supplement. There are better ways to lose weight–notably limiting oneself only to really good food.
Music To Eat Cookies By
The musical Kiss Me, Kate opened on Broadway on this date in 1948. It was written by Bella Spewack, whose other claim to fame was co-inventing Girl Scout Cookies. The musical is better known for its songs by Cole Porter, the best of which was From This Moment On.
Joseph Bologna, a screenwriter and occasional actor, was born today in 1934. Among his works are Blame It On Rio, My Favorite Year, and Rags To Riches . . . David Baker, a British professional bicyclist, was born today in 1965. . . Lucy Punch, an actress who usually appears in comedies, got her first line out today in 1977.
Words To Eat By
“Boiled cabbage a l’Anglaise is something compared with which steamed coarse newsprint bought from bankrupt Finnish salvage dealers and heated over smoky oil stoves is an exquisite delicacy.”–William Neil Connor, a British columnist who wrote under the name “Cassandra.”
Words To Drink By
“What is your host’s purpose in having a party? Surely not for you to enjoy yourself; if that were their sole purpose they’d have simply sent Champagne and women over to your place by taxi.”–P. J. O’Rourke.
A Tasting Around The Christmas Tree.
All the visual and olfactory qualities are under consideration.
Click here for the cartoon.