The Food Almanac: Monday, December 2, 2013

New Orleans Restaurant Milestones
Bacco opened today in 1991. With an Italian menu, it was a departure from the French-Creole restaurants the Brennans had always operated in the past. Siblings Ralph and Cindy Brennan noted that their mother was Italian. Besides, Ralph had been to Italy and few times and was turned on by the food of Tuscany in particular. One of the flavors that thrilled Ralph was white truffles. He began importing them every fall for a month-long festival that went on for years, until the price of the rare fungi shot off the charts. Bacco is currently in limbo. Ralph Brennan (now the sole owner) closed the French Quarter trattoria, with a promise to reopen it when he finds the right location. Meantime, many of Bacco's better dishes are being served in Ralph's other restaurants.

Today's Flavor
It's Beignets For Breakfast Day. "Beignet" is French for any kind of battered, fried finger food. But here in New Orleans it connotes the square, plump doughnut fried by the zillions in the French Market-style coffeehouses around town. They're eaten by threes with cafe au lait, made with dense chicory coffee and hot milk. Their importance as a local culinary icon was best illustrated when the Cafe du Monde reopened for business seven weeks after Hurricane Katrina. That story made all the national news outlets.

Although most beignets are consumed late at night, after an evening spent in other entertainments, they are delightful for breakfast. The coffeehouses aren't nearly as crowded, the service isn't as rushed, and the feeling is to linger and watch the French Quarter come to life.

Like many dishes that have remained unchanged for over a century, beignets are intrinsically not that big a deal. Eating all three that come in an order is not a good idea (unless, of course, you're a male in his late teens or early twenties, in which case–whoops! too late! they're already gone), because that last one will bloat and leave you with a bad feeling about beignets. And you don't want that.

The Old Kitchen Sage Sez:
Although you can make beignets from scratch using the Cafe du Monde's mix or a recipe, good beignets can be made much easier. Just buy a can of the cheapest biscuit dough in the refrigerator case. Pop it open, cut the biscuits into halves or even quarters (you can also punch a hole in the center and stretch them into traditional doughnuts), then fry them in clean 375-degree oil until they brown a little darker than your instincts tell you. Drain them on paper towels, dust them with powdered sugar, and you have beignets at least eighty-five percent as good as those at the coffee stand.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Doughnut Lake, Connecticut is well named. It's about a hundred fifty by two hundred feet, with a small island in the center. From the air, it lives up to its name. It's in the middle of expansive (and expensive) houses close to the New York state line, forty-seven miles north of New York City, for which the area is an affluent commuter suburb. We can't confirm rumors of a movement to change its name to Bagel Lake. No doughnut shops can be found nearby, but many restaurants are within two miles on either side of the state border. We like the sound of Blind Charlie's Cafe, in Pound Ridge, New York.

Edible Dictionary
zeppole, Italian, n., pl.–The singular is "zeppola," but nobody eats just one. To call these the Italian version of New Orleans beignets captures these round, holeless doughnuts about ninety percent. They are a traditional treat at St. Joseph's Day, but are also served the rest of the year. They have lately become popular in American coffeeshops, particularly those with an Italian tilt. They're smaller than French Market-style beignets, and instead of being dusted with powdered sugar it's granulated sugar and cinnamon. Sometimes they're topped or filled with a creamy sauce long the lines of zabaglione.

Deft Dining Rule #918:
Never take a bite from a beignet if there's a possibility that one of the people you're with is about to say something funny.

Physiology Of Eating
This would have fit better yesterday, when it was National Liver And Onions Day. George Minot–born today in 1885–shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine in 1934, for developing an extract from liver to treat pernicious anemia. Later, it was found that the active ingredient was Vitamin B-12, which is what we now use. Myself, I'd prefer the veal liver Lyonnaise with bacon and onions at Clancy's, with a side order of grits.

Music To Eat Biscuits By
Ole Buttermilk Sky, by the Kay Kyser Orchestra, with vocals by Mike Douglas (the one who would later be a talk show host), was a Number One hit today in 1946. A buttermilk sky is like a mackerel sky, covered with bigger, rounder little clouds.

Food Namesakes
Britney Spears, from Kentwood, Louisiana, was born today in 1981. I wonder if she even likes asparagus. . . Chris Wedge, the animator who did Ice Age and other movies, animated himself for the first time today in 1968. I wonder if he likes blue cheese.

Words To Eat By
"They found that the eclair contains everything my system lacks. So I take three a day and I feel like a new woman."–Ruth Draper, British humorist and speaker, born today in 1884.

Words To Drink By
"Beer is not a good cocktail party drink, especially in a home where you don't know where the bathroom is."–Billy Carter.