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Tom Fitzmorris

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Email: Tom@nomenu.com

Recipe: Tom's Pricklypear Cactus and Cranberry Jelly

I have a large pricklypear cactus growing outside my back door. Most years (but not this one, for some reason) it produces large numbers of dark pruple-red fruits. I make these into either jelly or syrup, depending on whether it sets or not. This year, I turned my less bountiful harvest into a variation on cranberry sauce–the jellied kind. You need a juice extractor to do this. In my experience, it pulls all the spines out of the cactus–even the tiniest ones. But check to make sure.

24 or so ripe pricklypear cactus fruits
1 bag fresh cranberries.
1/2 cup lemon juice
1 box pectin
3 cups sugar

1. Wash the pricklypears and the cranberries. Run them through a juice extractor, and save the juice. Run the pulp back through a second time, with the lemon juice. Blend the two batches of juice. You should have about two and a half to three cups of juice.

2. In a saucepan, dissolve the pectin into the juice and bring to a boil. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Return to a boil and cook for two more minutes. Remove from heat. Skim the foam.

3. After boiling new canning jars and lids in the usual way (see instructions that come with the jars), fill the jars with the juice mixture and screw the lids on tightly. Process the filled jars in boiling water for 15 minutes.

4. Remove the jars from the boiler and turn them upside-down for about five minutes. Turn them upright again and allow to cool for an hour. Check to make sure all the seals are good and the lids have curved inward.

Makes about six eight-ounce jars.
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Recipe: Tom's Fennel, Italian Sausage, and Cornbread Stuffing

When we started smoking our Thanksgiving turkey, the cornbread-andouille stuffing we used to do became one smoky thing too many. So, inspired by a recipe I saw in Gourmet, I changed my recipe to use Italian sausage. Since that already had an anise flavor, I thought I'd take it one step further with fennel. This is also pretty good baked over oysters.

If you have fresh herbs available for the thyme, tarragon, or chervil, use twice the amounts shown here.

3 cups chicken or turkey stock
1 1/2 pounds spicy Italian sausage
1 stick butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 bunches fennel (all parts, not just the bulbs), chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 bunch green onions, tender parts only, chopped
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, bottom stems removed, chopped
1 10-oz. bag fresh spinach, well washed and picked of big stems
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. tarragon
1 tsp. chervil
2 oz. Herbsaint or Pernod
Stuffing Cornbread (see recipe below)
2 eggs
1 pint half-and-half
1. In a large saucepan, bring one cup of the stock to a boil. Break the sausage into the pan and cook, stirring with a fork to break it up, until it no longer looks raw–about six minutes. Transfer the sausage to a bowl.

2. Heat the butter in the saucepan until it bubbles. Add the chopped onion, fennel, celery, and green onions. Sauté until tender. (Note: It might be easier to do this in two batches, starting with half the butter for each batch.) When finished, transfer the chopped vegetables to the bowl with the sausage.

3. Add a half-cup of stock to the pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the spinach, parsley, salt, pepper, thyme, tarragon, and sage. Cook until the spinach and parsley wilt, then add the Herbsaint. Cook another minute, then turn off the heat.

4. Remove the spinach mixture and chop. Add the chopped spinach mixture to the sausage bowl. Toss all the contents of the bowl to mix well.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

5. In another bowl, beat the eggs, then whisk in the half-and-half and the remaining chicken stock.

6. Break up the cornbread into morsels (not quite crumbs). Put the cornbread into a large bowl and add the milk-egg mixture. Stir lightly to combine.

7. Add the sausage mixture to the cornbread, and toss to combine. Taste and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

8. Load into a baking dish or two. Press down the top of the stuffing to flatten it out. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes (longer for larger baking dishes), until the top has browned nicely.

Serves about fifteen.
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Recipe: Tom's Turkey Giblet Gravy

The first year I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my extended family, I got more compliments than I thought I would for my sugar-cane-smoked turkey, cooked on the outdoor grill. Then my balloon was burst when my wife looked at me and said, "Where's the gravy?" Well. . . I got right to work with the few resources at hand and made a bad one that I caught grief for for the next year. After that, I was ready with this.
  • Turkey neck, wing tips, and whatever else you can trim from the turkey that people won't miss
  • Giblets other than liver
  • 1 onion, cut up
  • 1 rib celery, cut up
  • Stems from a bunch of parsley
  • 1 small carrot, cut up
  • 1/4 tsp. leaf thyme
  • 1/4 tsp. marjoram
  • 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pan juices and drippings from turkey (if available)
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 Tbs. flour
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • Dash Worcestershire sauce

1. Bring a quart of water to a boil and add the turkey pieces, giblets, onion, celery, parsley, and carrot. Put the thyme, marjoram, peppercorns, and bay leaf into an herb infuser or cheesecloth pouch and add to the pot. Keep at a simmer boil for about an hour.

2. Strain the stock, and return to a simmer. Reduce to about two cups of liquid.

3. After removing the turkey from the roasting pan, pour the drippings into a gravy separator or small bowl and let stand to allow the fat to rise to the top. Meanwhile, add a little water to the pan and scrape up the browned bits on the inside bottom. Add this to the drippings. Remove all the fat you can from the drippings.

4. Make a light brown roux with the butter and flour.

5. Combine the stock, the defatted drippings and the roux in a saucepan over low heat. Whisk as it comes to a boil to get a smooth texture. Add Worcestershire, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

Makes about two cups of gravy.

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Recipe: Tom's Oyster Bienville

When cooking, oysters release a good deal of water, and that can rip the sauce apart. The solution is to use more bread crumbs than looks or feels right. And to have the sauce fully cooked and hot before it goes into the oven, so that the dish can be cooked mostly by heat from above.

1 lb. small shrimp (50 count), peeled, rinsed, and chopped coarsely
1 stick butter
1 rib celery, chopped coarsely
1 large, ripe red bell pepper, seeds and membrane removed, chopped coarsely
8 oz. small white mushrooms, chopped coarsely
1/4 cup dry sherry
4 strips lean bacon, fried crisp, crumbled
2 green onions, sliced finely
1 cup of oyster water (or as much as you can get, plus enough water to make a cup)
1/2 cup flour
2/3 cup warm milk
2 egg yolks
2/3 cup finely shredded mozzarella cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp. salt-free Creole seasoning
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 dozen large oysters, well drained
1. Heat 1 tsp. of the butter in a skillet until it bubbles. Sauté the chopped shrimp until it turns pink. Remove and set aside.

2. Add 2 Tbs. butter to the pan and heat until it bubbles. Add the celery, bell pepper, and mushrooms. Sauté until they get tender. Add the sherry and bring to a boil for about one minute.

3. Add the shrimp, bacon, and green onions. Cook for another minute, then add the oyster water. Bring it to a boil and cook for about two minutes. The sauce should be wet but not sloshy. Remove from heat.

4. Heat the remaining butter over medium-low heat in a saucepan. Stir in the flour to make a blond roux. When you see the first hints of browning, remove from the heat and whisk in the hot milk to form a béchamel. (It will have the texture of mashed potatoes.)

5. Add the egg yolks to the béchamel, stirring quickly to combine it before the eggs have a chance to set. Whisk the mozzarella slowly into the béchamel.

6. Add the béchamel to the pan with the shrimp mixture. Stir to into combine completely.

7. Combine the Creole seasoning, salt, bread crumbs, and cheeses. Blend two-thirds of this mixture into the sauce.

8. Cover the bottom of a shallow baking dish with oysters, leaving just a little space between them. Top with the Bienville sauce. Sprinkle the top with the remaining bread crumb mixture. Bake in a preheated 450-degree oven for about 15-20 minutes (depending on the size of the baking dish). The dish is done when it's bubbling and the top is browned.

Serves eight to twelve.
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Recipe: Tom's Brined and Sugar-Cane Smoked Turkey

Cane-Smoked TurkeyI cook my turkey in a big barbecue pit. It gets hotter than a smoker, but because I keep the turkey away from direct heat, it cooks slowly and absorbs a lot of smoky flavor. It comes out with a crisp skin with a beautiful orange-bronze color. It also smells wonderful, and retains more moisture than it would if it were cooked any other way.

I get the sugar cane that I use with the charcoal from a friend's sugar plantation. It's worth the trip upriver to St. James Parish for that. During the harvest (which takes place right before Thanksgiving most years), most growers will let you take as much of their scrap as you want. If you can't get sugar cane, standard smoking woods like pecan, oak, hickory, or mesquite will do the job.

1 turkey, about 12-15 pounds
Salt and pepper
2 ribs celery, cut up
1 onion, cut up
1 orange, cut into eighths
1 lemon, cut into quarters
A shake of tarragon
A stem of fresh rosemary

1. Thaw the turkey if frozen. This takes at least four days, and should be done in the refrigerator. Put it into the pan you'll roast it in to catch any leaks. After it thaws, remove that metal or plastic thing holding the legs together (a pair of pliers is essential, I find). Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity, and clip off the wing tips. (You can use these parts for making stock for the gravy.)

2. The day before, marinate the turkey in a brine. The standard proportion is one cup of salt to one gallon of water. Make enough of this to completely cover the turkey in an ice chest with an unopened (so as not to dilute the brine) bag of ice to keep everything cold. The brining process takes twelve to eighteen hours for a fifteen-pound turkey. Another method is to put the turkey and the brine solution inside a leakproof plastic bag, and put it into the refrigerator.

3. The morning of the day you want to serve the turkey, dump the brine and rinse the bird very well inside and out with cold water. Season it with salt (yes!) and pepper. Stuff the cavity with all the other ingredients, and tie the legs just tightly enough to keep everything inside.

4. Fire up the grill with charcoal and sugar cane or smoking wood, soaked in water and then shaken dry. Put the turkey into an aluminum pan with a loose tent of foil over the top. Place the turkeys as far as possible away from the fire, and hang a curtain of foil down to ward off direct heat. Any heat that gets to the turkey should arrive in smoke.

5. Close the cover. Add coals and cane at intervals to maintain a temperature of 200 to 250 degrees inside the pit. It takes six to seven hours for the internal temperature of the turkey to reach about 180 degrees. Use a meat thermometer for this; the useless pop-up plastic indicator will pop only when the turkey is overcooked.

6. Take the turkey out and put it on the table to rest and cool before carving. Although it may be tempting, don't use the drippings for the gravy. They reduce so much during the long cooking time that they become impossibly salty.
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Tom: Thanksgiving Restaurants and Recipes

Thanksgiving is the prime feasting day of the year. It includes everybody in America–even those who don't want to be included. For most people the menu is traditional and homestyle, using ingredients that are neither expensive nor unusual. Still, we all expect Thanksgiving to be a grand feast. The everyday is not good enough.

If you're cooking at home, you have generations of experience behind you and millions of recipes to refer to. Still, every year, every cook tries to make the dinner better. I know I do. That's a good thing.

ThanksgivingVignette-CornucopiaBut the biggest change in Thanksgiving feasting in my lifetime is the growth in the number of people who dine out on that day. Not all that long ago, only the lonely and travelers were found in restaurants on Thanksgiving. No more. Restaurants are full of Thanksgiving diners now, most in large family groups. The holiday has become one of the busiest days of the year for restaurants that choose to open.

Unfortunately, the number of restaurants open on Turkey Day is not enough to handle the demand. When I compliled my list of the fifty best venues about covered all the good ones.

In most restaurants , the Thanksgiving menu is much different from the standard food served in the restaurant. And the prices are usually a little higher. Although you should make reservations as soon as you decide to dine out on Thanksgiving, enough restaurants are now open that it shouldn't be hard to find one.

ThanksgivingVignette-PumpkinsBelow is our annual list of Thanksgiving restaurants. It is still in flux. You'd be surprised how long some restaurant wait before making their Thanksgiving plans. Or how late they'll change them. I'll update the list daily to keep up with interesting last-minute openings. Many restaurants book up the 1-3 p.m. seatings very quickly. So be ready to take another time.

As is our standard practice, NOMenu's Thanksgiving selectionsare differentiated by ratings. So as not to confuse the Thanksgiving ratings with our overall fleur-de-lis and star ratings, these are on a scale of one to three turkeys. (Sorry. I couldn't resist.) All are recommended.

ThanksgivingVignette-PieDisclaimer: With forty or fifty people coming to my house every year for the past twenty, it is a long time since I last dined in a restaurant on Thanksgiving. I base the selection and the turkeys on the restaurant's performance the rest of the year,. what I heard from diners last year, and the appeal of its holiday menu.

Click here to see Tom's review of each restaurant open for Thanksgiving
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Tom: Beat the cold with this Creole-Italian Chili recipe

RecipeSquare-150x150Creole-Italian Chili

For the past few months I have been entertaining myself with new ways to use spicy Italian sausage. Chili, a dish that admits of infinite variations, sounded like a good bet. I waited for it to turn cold outside, because that's the kind of weather for this. It will be quite chilly tonight!

3 large onions, sliced as thin as you can
2 green peppers, cut into large chunks
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup olive oil
2 lbs. Italian sausage, casings removed
2 28 oz. cans whole Italian tomatoes, chopped with the juice in a food processor
4 cups cooked red beans
2 cups red wine
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. fresh chopped basil
1 Tbs. paprika
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 Tbs. Tabasco chipotle pepper sauce
1 1/2 cups shredded Fontina cheese

1. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute onions with peppers and garlic in olive oil until light brown. Transfer to a large kettle and set aside.

2. Saute Italian sausage until very lightly browned, about 2-3 minutes. While cooking, break up the sausage into small pieces. Remove, drain, and add sausage to kettle.

3. Put the kettle over lowest heat and add tomatoes, red beans, wine, oregano, basil, paprika, chili powder, salt, pepper, and Tabasco chipotle sauce. Simmer for one to two hours, until thickened to your liking.

Serve in crocks or big bowls, topped with Fontina cheese.

Serves four to six.
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Tom: Gnocchi with Crab Meat and Prosciutto recipe

RecipeSquare-150x150This rather rich dish brings crabmeat and dry-cured ham together in a cream sauce with gnocchi, the little potato-and-flour pasta dumplings. You can make your own gnocchi if you like (quite an undertaking), but you can buy relatively decent fresh gnocchi in the refrigerator case at the store.

8 oz. potato gnocchi
1 Tbs. butter
4 oz. prosciutto, sliced into thin slivers
1 1/2 Tbs. chopped fresh shallot
8 oz. whipping cream
8 oz. lump crabmeat
1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the gnocchi until they're set but not mushy soft–about four minutes. Drain.

2. In a saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter till it bubbles, then add the shallots. Saute until they just begin to brown, then add the prosciutto and cook about another minute.

3. Add the cream and bring to a low boil. Lower the heat and reduce the cream for about five minutes. Reduce the heat to low and reduce till thick. Add pepper to taste.

4. Add the crabmeat to the cream, and agitate the pan to blend. Cook until the cream starts bubbling again. Add cayenne and salt to taste.

5. Add the gnocchi to the pan and toss with the sauce to distribute the ingredients. Serve hot on small plate as an appetizer or amuse bouche.

Serves four.
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Tom: What brand of butter is your favorite restaurant using?

FoodFAQsQ. What brands of butter do the upper-end restaurants use? It seems to me that it tastes a lot better than the butter I buy at the store.

A. Most restaurants buy butter from institutional distributors who don't market the same brands at retail. However, most of the butter that comes into this market–regardless of the brand–is actually made by Land 'O' Lakes. A taste test I did of a dozen salted butters with different brands showed no detectable difference in flavor.

In general, unsalted butter is better than salted butter. The salt masks flaws, and also preserves the butter. Unsalted ("sweet") butter has to be the best quality available, because it shows every problem.

You can find some premium butters in the stores, particularly those with a gourmet tilt. The most widely-distributed brand is Plugra, an American-made butter that imitates French butter. The name is a respelling of "plus gras," which means "more fat."

That brings up a major issue. You might think that butter is 100 percent fat. It isn't. It contains milk solids–the foam that rises to the top and the brown stuff that sinks to the bottom after being cooked for awhile. Butter also contains a great deal of water–sometimes as much as 40 percent. The European-syle butters typically contain less water, which is why they taste better.
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Tom: Charlie’s Steak House fights juvenile diabetes

EatingNowSquare-150x150Wednesday next week, November 5, Charlie’s Steak House hosts its annual dinner in support of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Little more that needs to be said, right? Anyone who’s known a child with diabetes can sympathize. And it’s too common. I have a niece and two nephews who suffer, and one of my best friends in high school died of it.

Anyone who’s ever been to Charlie’s knows what this dinner will consist of. Yes, a big pile of the best onion rings in town, a wedge salad with blue cheese, a large filet mignon, potatoes au gratin, mushrooms bordelaise, mammoth French fries, dessert, coffee, tea, wine, beer, cocktails, and soft drinks. It’s the classic Charlie’s dinner, with all the sizzle for which the old Uptown beefmonger is famous.

The price is $75, inclusive of tax, tip, and all beverages. All the proceeds will benefit the JDRF and its search for a cure. Here’s the organization’s website if you’re curious as to what it’s about.

Two seatings: 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. Reservations are essential: 504-895-9323.

Charlie’s Steak House

Uptown 3: Napoleon To Audubon: 4510 Dryades. 504-895-9323. www.charliessteakhousenola.com.

This post originally appeared on Tom's website, NOMenu.com
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