The best egg nog, frankly, is uncooked. But so many people are concerned about the possibility of problems from eating raw eggs that I've come up with an egg nog recipe cooked just long enough to eliminate most possible problems. It does produce a difficulty, through: you have to be very careful as you cook this to keep the mixture from setting. It's basically a custard, and that's not what you want.
Six large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbs. vanilla
1/2 pint whipping cream
1 pint half-and-half
Generous pinch cream of tartar
1. Separate the eggs very carefully, making sure no yolk gets into the whites. Refrigerate the whites in a covered container.
2. In a pan off the fire, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until it becomes pale yellow and thicker. Add the nutmeg, vanilla, cream, and one cup of the half-and-half. Whisk until blended.
3. Heat the pan over a very low fire while stirring, with a meat thermometer in the mix. Watch for a temperature reading of 175. Don't overheat or cook longer than needed to reach this temperature.
4. Remove from the heat, and add the remaining half-and-half. Use a fine sieve to strain the mixture into the container you'll use to refrigerate it, and put it into the refrigerator.
5. When you're ready to serve the egg nog, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until it makes soft peaks. With a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the beaten egg whites into the refrigerated egg nog until most (but not all) of the streaks are blended in.
6. If you'd like to add something interesting (i.e. brandy, Bourbon, or dark rum), a half-cup of the liquor is about right. Serve with some more nutmeg (freshly grated, if possible) over the top.
Chocolate Egg Nog
I was enjoying a cup of eggnog around the Christmas tree last weekend, with my family gathered around me. (I know it sounds corny, but we're a pretty corny family.) I offered some of it to my daughter, who took a look at it and turned away. The nutmeg aroma got her, I think.
"What would it take for you to try eggnog, Mary Leigh?" I asked. She said that about the only thing would be if it were chocolate. I scoffed, then thought about it. I dig around and came up with a few recipes, notably one from the hand of Sharon Tyler Herbst. She's the author of a number of food books, including Never Eat More Than You Can Lift, a book of food quotes. That, oddly enough, is where I found the recipe that I fooled around with to come up with my own.
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup cocoa powder
1 Tbs. vanilla
2 cups whole milk
4 oz. Amaretto
Pinch cream of tartar
1 cup whipping cream
1 Tbs. sugar
Grated semi-sweet chocolate
1. Beat the egg yolks, sugar, cocoa, and vanilla until thick and completely blended. Stir in the milk and the Amaretto until the mixture is uniform in color. Refrigerate until very cold.
2. Combine the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in a bowl and beat until soft peaks form. With a rubber spatula, fold into the chocolate mixture.
3. Beat the whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add the 1 Tbs. sigar and beat until dissolved. Fold into the chocolate mixture with a rubber spatula.
4. Grate semi-sweet chocolate over the tops of each cup of eggnog and serve immediately.
One Christmas our plans changed suddenly, and we found ourselves at home cooking for a group that grew from just the four of us to eighteen people. I went ahead with my plan to roast prime rib, and went to the store and bought three more standing rib roasts.
I've spoken with a number of chefs lately who said that they think the only way to get that soft, very juicy prime rib texture is to roast the beef at a very low temperature. Although cookbooks are all over the spectrum of roasting temperatures, those who specify low oven temperatures seem to be quite adamant about it. I have been hesitant about trying to roast at, say, 200 degrees, because of food safety issues. Then I read in a magazine that if you eat rare beef, as I do, you're already in violation of the main food safety rule. So I thought I'd try roasting prime ribs at 250, to see what happened.
Knowing that no crust could possibly form on the outside at that temperature, I started by using the grill (on which I was smoking a pork shoulder) to sear the prime ribs. This is how I've always cooked ribs in the past, so I knew what to expect: lots of fat rendering out from the notoriously fatty racks, falling into the charcoal fire and flaming up, sometimes setting the exterior of the ribs on fire. This does not seem to produce any burned-grease flavor, however, so I just let it happen for about six minutes, turning once.
Then I moved them to a preheated (as if it made much difference) 250-degree oven, with a slotted rack over a pan with about a cup of water in it. After three hours, the internal temperature was 120 degrees, which is on the cusp of rare. Another half-hour and it is was at 130. Since my crowd was given to eating well-done meat, I let three of the racks get up to 145 (another 20 minutes) and took them out. After letting them rest for five minutes, I started carving. They were just right: very juicy and tender, with crusty parts for fans of end cuts.
The only disappointment was that I got very little in the way of dripping from the beef, and so didn't make a gravy. However, the beef was so juicy that nobody complained.
The kind of rib roast to look for are those with one very large eye of lean, rather than a smaller eye and bigger crescents of meat surrounding it with fat in between. It's worth asking the customer butcher to cut some for you that way if you don't like what you see in the case.
1 rack of prime rib roast of beef, 3-4 ribs across
Coarse-ground black pepper
Kosher salt: 1 Tbs. per rib
1 small, fresh horseradish root
1. If there is an extravagant amount of fat on the outside of the roast, trim it off. Or not, as you wish.
2. Preheat an outdoor grill, or a black iron skillet over medium-high heat on the stove. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
3. Season the roast with pepper and what will seem like too much salt. Put it cut side down on the grill or in the skillet, and sear for about three minutes, until it's browned and you can see fat running out of the roast at the bottom. Turn and brown the other side.
4. Place the roast on a broiler rack set above a broiler pan to catch the drippings. Add about a cup of water to the pan to create some steam, as well as it keep the drippings from drying out.
5. Turn the oven down to 250 degrees. Roast until the desired doneness is reached, according to the readings on your meat thermometer, inserted into the center of the beef:
This will take about 30 minutes per pound. However, let the internal temperature be your guide, not the time in the oven. The roast will cook a little more after you remove it from the oven, and that those who like their beef done more can have the outside cuts.
6. Remove the roast from the pan and allow it to rest for 5-10 minutes before carving. You may carve it into chops with the bone on, or carve away the bone and slice it thinner. Garnish with fresh horseradish grated over the beef at the table.
In South Louisiana, cherry trees don't get enough days of freezing weather in the winter to grow cherries of any particular merit. However, wild cherry trees are everywhere. (I have several growing in the woods around the Cool Water Ranch.) The cherries they produce are small and extremely tart. And the birds have a way of getting them all. But some people have enough good trees to get quite a few cherries, and they make this liqueur with them. You might be tempted to make this with good fresh cherries from the store, but it doesn't work: the cherries have to be sour. While different makers of this use different liquors for the marinade, it seems to me that vodka is the way to go. It has no flavor of its own, and lets the subtle cherry taste come through.
3 quarts wild cherries
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. anise seeds
1 1/2 liters vodka of decent quality
1. Rinse the cherries in cold water. Removed the excess water with a salad spinner or towel. Remove all leaves and stems.
2. Heat 1/2 cup of water in a clean saucepan until wisps of steam come off the top. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves completely. Remove from the heat.
3. Pour the cherries and the anise seeds into a one-gallon glass jug with a tight-fitting cap. Add the simply syrup from step 2 to the jug. Cap the jug tightly and shake it like crazy for about five minutes.
4. Add the vodka and shake to blend. Cap the jug loosely, so air an get out, and store it in a cool, dry, dark place for a few months. (Mark the date on the bottle so there will be no doubt.)
5. After at least two months, strain the contents of the jug through cheesecloth or a coffee filter set into a clean sieve. (The latter will take a long time; the bigger the filter, the better.)
6. Serve as a digestif with coffee. Have something else ready as an after-dinner drink in case some don't like it–an inevitability.
Q. I recently acquired an authentic Chinese cleaver. I love how it gets big cutting jobs done quickly, especially when I'm working with bones. But it's pure steel and rusts every time I wash it. Do you have any suggestions on how to prevent this? Also, where can I get my knives sharpened professionally?
A. Never wash kitchen knives the way you wash everything else! Never ever put knives in the sink with all the dishes and tableware! And never, never, ever put knives into the dishwasher!
Professional cooks give their knives a quick cleaning immediately after they've finished using them. They run water over the blades, scrubbing them with a plastic-bristled brush if necessary. Then they wipe them dry with a towel, and put them away, preferably in a block. That routine is especially important for the kind of metal you seem to have in that cleaver. I must tell you not to get too attached to that cleaver, as any knife that rusts that easily is far from the best quality.
Good knives in normal use need to be sharpened only rarely–once or twice a year. I have knives that go unsharpened for many years while still cutting efficiently. What you must do before each use, however, is to use a steel to true the edge frequently. The one I have is coated with diamond dust. Only a negligible part of the blade comes off the blade when you do that.
Actual honing and sharpening does remove metal, and that takes years off the knife's life. The best way to get the job done is, once again, to do what the chefs do: they have a professional knife sharpener do the job. A guy who sharpens knives shows up at the Farmer's Markets most weeks. (Magazine at Girod Saturday mornings; Uptown Square Tuesday midday). Usually he will sharpen your knives then and there. Sometimes he's so busy that he takes your knives back to the shop, sharpens them, then returns them to you the next week.
I'm not a fan of home sharpeners. The best I know is Chef's Choice 2. The worst are those gizmos made from what looks like stacks of coins intermeshing with one another. Those can actually gouge out the knife metal. Might be good for a Boy Scout pocketknife, but that's about it.
One more matter: avoid banging your knives around. Never store them in a drawer. Use either a wooden block or one of those magnetic racks you screw to a wall.
We need the holidays. So many warm friends and relatives we're ashamed to say we haven't dined with since. . . well I guess it was last Christmas, right? The restaurants encourage the cheer with the trappings of the holidays–some of them in extravagant measure. They do this both to express good will, and to use the opportunity to serve their customers with all the festivity for which their craft is renowned.
Christmas, Chanukah, and New Year's are saturated with nostalgia. That gives the older restaurants an advantage in creating holiday gooseflesh. Here are those, and newer establishments that understand what Yuletide is all about. Although the primary criterion for this list is atmospheric, no restaurant is admitted without great eating.
1. Antoine's. French Quarter: 713 St Louis. 504-581-4422. Antoine's is celebrating Christmas for the 175nd time, a record matched by no other American restaurant. (It ought to be 174, but in 2005 it didn't open until December 29, for the well-known reason.) Its biggest dining room–the Annex–looks like Christmas even without decorations, with its Victorian-Germanic styling. Here is the tallest and most lavishly decorated Christmas tree in New Orleans. Customers call their waiters to nail down the tables closest to it. Christmas Eve, there is no busier restaurant.
2. Arnaud's. French Quarter: 813 Bienville. 504-523-5433. Arnaud's was New Orleans first really grand restaurant, brightly lit in the Parisian style. The main dining room looks as if it had been designed to be replete with wreaths, bows, ribbons, and Christmas lights.
3. La Provence. Lacombe: 25020 US 190. 985-626-7662. The whole idea of La Provence seems to have been composed specifically for Christmas. A country inn out in the middle of the pine woods, with two roaring fireplaces? And a waitress who composes poems of cheer for the customers? The only thing missing is Santa–hey! did you just see a red streak across the treetops just now?
4. Brennan's. : 417 Royal. 504-525-9711. The millions of dollars recently poured into the restoration of Brennan's got the job done just in time for Christmas 2014. The building dates back to the 1700s, and the reconstruction make it look even older than it did before, in a very handsome way. And you can dine in the courtyard now.
5. R'Evolution. : 777 Bienville (in the Royal Sonesta Hotel). 504-553-2277. One of the handsomest restaurants to be built in many years, R'Evolution's visual aspect begins out on Bourbon Street, where the Royal Sonesta's balconies are fully aglow with the lights of the season. From the bar to the dining room to the courtyard, every other part of the place is in full Yule celebration.
6. Ralph's On The Park. City Park Area: 900 City Park Ave. 504-488-1000. Ralph Brennan's flagship restaurant is not only well-decorated inside, but has a view through its big windows of one of the city's most famous holiday displays: Celebration in the Oaks, across the street at City Park.
7. Le Foret. CBD: 129 Camp. 504-553-6738. The classicism of the premises bespeaks the holidays, down to the bustling foot traffic you see through the windows onto the sidewalk outside.
8. Windsor Court Grill Room. CBD: 300 Gravier. 504-522-1994. The only challenger to Antoine's Christmas tree is the one that rests on the ground floor of New Orleans's most luxurious hotel and pokes up through an atrium into the entrance of the Grill Room. Which itself is a study in restrained elegance, even at Yuletide.
9. Court of Two Sisters. French Quarter: 613 Royal. 504-522-7273. I'm not a hundred percent sure that the courtyard at the Court of Two Sisters is specially decorated for the holidays. It looks like Christmas in there all the time. More locals than you know go there every season.
10. Broussard's. French Quarter: 819 Conti. 504-581-3866. Broussard's has a courtyard, which is Christmas-lit to the max. The dining room past the bar has a Dickensian quality to it, perhaps because the houses used to be kept there. And the main dining room, with its red accents, looks like Christmas year-round.
11. Muriel's. French Quarter: 801 Chartres. 504-568-1885. You get a triple dose of Christmas cheer just walking to Muriel's. Jackson Square's new Christmas lights get you right in the mood. And the restaurant does a nice job inside, too.
12. Andrea's. Metairie: 3100 19th St. 504-834-8583. Chef Andrea holds a record: more Christmas trees in his dining rooms than any other free-standing restaurant. He's thoroughly Italian, and overdoes the decorations in a tradition of Italian design going back to the Romans.
Emeril's NOLA has the right idea about the Reveillon. The menu is a nice mix of the offbeat and the traditional, with a cool-weather, comfort-food quality. Indeed, I'd call this one of the best Reveillon menus of this season, with nothing held back in terms of classy eats. If you've never been to NOLA before, you'll find a rather hip place where Emerils up-and-coming chefs and servers try new experiments in restaurant dining. The great dish you have at Emeril's today may well have been figured out at NOLA.
We'll be in the spacious upstairs dining room (elevator served), and we'll have some interesting wines. I expect that the usual sociability we enjoy at our Eat Club repasts will be in even greater evidence tonight.
Herbsaint cream, local caviar
Crispy Veal Sweetbreads
Tomato, haricot verts, capers, citrus brown butter
Pan Seared Scallops
Creamed spinach, house-made bacon
You must make this the night before Thanksgiving. The most time-consuming part of making a cheesecake is cooling it. This must be done slowly and gently, or you’ll have cracks in the top.
2 packages (out of the standard three in the standard box) cinnamon graham crackers
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick butter, melted
4 8-oz. packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 pint whipping cream
1 Tbs. vanilla
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup orange juice
Zest (grated peel) of one orange
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees.
1. Put the cream cheese and the sugar into the bowl of a mixer and blend on medium-slow speed until completely blended and fluffy–about 10 minutes.
2. While that’s going on, make the crust. Grind the graham crackers into small crumbs in a food processor. Add the sugar and the butter and process until the butter has soaked all the crumbs.
3. Line the bottom of a 10-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Dump the crust mixture in and press a wedge of crumbs into the bottom corner all the way around. Then make a bottom crust, and finally press the remaining crumbs up the sides of the pan. It is not necessary for the crust to come all the way to the top of the pan. Set aside.
4. Add the sour cream to the mixer bowl. With a rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl after this and each other ingredient addition throughout the recipe.
5. Add the eggs, one at a time, allowing them to blend in completely before adding the next one. (Break each egg into a cup first to make sure it’s okay before you add it.)
6. Add the cream, the vanilla, the juices, and the zest. Mix for another five minutes or so.
7. Pour the filling into the crust. Place the springform pan in a shallow pan (i.e., a pizza pan), and place it in the center of the oven at 275 degrees (no convection). Pour warm water into the bottom pan. Bake for 90 minutes, until you see the cheesecake has just a hint of browning on top.
8. Turn the oven off, but leave the cheesecake inside. After an hour, open the door a crack and let the cheesecake cool in the oven another half-hour. Remove the cheesecake and let it finish cooling on a counter. After another hour, remove the sides of the springform pan and put the cheesecake into the refrigerator. Chill at least three hours before serving.
Makes one ten-inch cheesecake; serves twelve to sixteen.
This is one of those soups that gets better after it sits in the refrigerator for a day. You might consider doing that, which will also reduce the amount of time needed on the stove by about a third.
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour
1 large onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
One or two cooked turkey carcasses, with all available scraps
3 quarts chicken stock (or water)
1 Tbs. salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. Tabasco
2 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1 lb. andouille or smoked sausage
2 green onions, chopped
2-3 cups cooked rice
Filé powder (available from stores with New Orleans products)
1. Blend the flour and the oil in a saucepan and make as dark a roux as you can, stirring constantly to avoid burning it. (The higher the heat, the more assiduously you must stir.)
2. When the roux is medium-dark, turn down the heat and add the onion, bell pepper, celery and parsley. Sauté them in the roux until the onions are clear and have begun to brown a little.
3. Add the turkey bones and meat to the pot, along with the chicken stock or water, salt, pepper, Tabasco, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a simmer and cook for about an hour.
4. Slice the andouille into one-inch-thick discs. Wrap them in paper towels and microwave them on medium power for about three minutes, to remove excess fat. Add the sausage to the gumbo pot.
5. Lower to a simmer and cook the gumbo for one to two hours. Stir every now and then. Remove the turkey bones, but strip off all the meat and return it to the pot.
6. Add the green onions and simmer for another three or four minutes.
7. Serve over cooked long-grain rice with a pinch or two of filé at the table.
This is at its best with meaty, wild-tasting mushrooms: portobellos, criminis, shiitakes, chanterelles, porcinis, etc. The best cheeses are the ones that melt well and have an interesting tang: Gruyere, Fontina, Swiss, Provolone, mozzarella. (If you use the latter two, use a little Parmesan, too.)
3 cups half-and-half
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp. Worcestershire
1/4 tsp. Tabasco
1/4 tsp. salt
1 Tbs. butter
18 inches of a loaf of stale French bread
1 1/2 cups sliced mushrooms
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 1/2 cup shredded Gruyere, Fontina, or other easy-melting white cheese
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
1. Combine the half-and-half, eggs, Worcestershire, Tabasco, and salt in a bowl and blend well.
2. Slice the bread into thin (about 1/4 inch) slices. Butter the inside of a 9″x5″x4″ baking dish or casserole. Place a layer of bread along the bottom. Sprinkle one-third each of the cheese, mushrooms, and green onions over the bread. Pour one-fourth of the milk-egg mixture over this, enough to soak it well. Push down gently until the bread is soaked.
3. Repeat the layers in the same order as above, following with a dousing of liquid. Finish with a layer of bread and the last of the liquid.
4. Place the baking dish in a pan of warm water and put the entire assembly into the preheated oven. Bake for an hour and 15 minutes at 300 degrees. Let it cool for at least a half-hour before serving. It can be sliced, but it’s perfectly fine to spoon it right out of the dish at the table.
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.