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La Belle Cuisine


Big Birthday Bash, New Orleans Style

(October 2001)

 Is it possible to celebrate these days? Yes. Now more than ever.

Books are being written about the ripple effects of the wave of terrorism set into motion on 11 September 2001. The date joins the list of infamous days etched indelibly in our individual and collective memory banks. That sad fact appears to be beyond our control. What is not beyond our control is how we choose to live our lives from that day forward.

One of the initial effects for me personally, although certainly not by design, was a tendency to shy away from anything light-hearted. Intellectually, I recognized the need for it, but emotionally, I simply could not bear it. My heart was far too heavy for frivolity.

Time moves on, does it not? Despite the unspeakable horrors of terrorism
and its aftermath, we find that the facts of our lives remain. Holidays come and go.  Long-anticipated days of celebration approach. What then?

We are all called upon to continue to live our lives with meaning, with compassion. And yes, with passion. Otherwise, we may as well wave the white flag and let the forces of evil have their way with us.

Please allow me to share my own experience with you.

I have never been one to make a big deal out of my birthday. Never mind
the reasons. About a year or so ago, quite spontaneously, it occurred to me that I had a relatively significant birthday coming up in 2001, and that I had
a burning desire to make it a Big Deal. To celebrate royally. Surely if I gave the family a year’s notice, we could all make it happen!

Those of you who know me well – or who know La Belle Cuisine well – surely must be aware of how I feel about Commander’s Palace. If you are
not in either of these categories, perhaps you have had an opportunity to
read “Remembering the Brennans: A New Orleans Reverie”. No? Please
allow me either to refresh your memory or to acquaint you with one of
my passions:

“For me, the ultimate atmosphere of pure merriment is to be found at Commander's renowned Sunday Jazz Brunch. Along with excellent food, including a myriad of scrumptious egg dishes: Creole, Hussarde, Soubise and Basin Street, among
others, you'll be treated to strolling jazz bands, a multitude of colored balloons,
and a relaxed, carefree, convivial environment. A celebration of the senses.
Seductive, like New Orleans itself. You'll be coaxed to "Enjoy, chere Madame! Enjoy!" In short, you can experience the epitome of the very heart and soul of
this exquisite city. And when you take your leave, you will truly know what it
means to miss New Orleans.....but that's another story!”

Well, here it is.  The rest of the story…

  Obviously, there was no question of where this significant birthday was to
be celebrated. I reiterate, for me, the ultimate atmosphere of pure merriment
is to be found at Commander's renowned Sunday Jazz Brunch. No contest.

So. Here’s what you do. Well in advance, give Commander's a jingle(504.899.8221) and make reservations. And just in case you are wondering,
as I did, whether they book reservations more than a year in advance, the
answer is yes.  Contact your sons (daughters, parents, nieces, nephews,
whatever) and give them fair warning. Make no bones about the fact that
this occasion is extremely crucial to your well being, and that you are
counting on their participation. You may have to call them again several
months later, as I did, to add a reservation for your new granddaughter!
No problem. They will simply congratulate you.

The Big Day approaches. Things are looking good. Your heart is already racing with anticipation. And then the unthinkable, the unspeakable occurs.
11 September 2001. The thought of celebration makes you heartsick. Joy is
now as foreign to you as terror once was. You seriously consider canceling
the event. How can you possibly expect your older son and his wife to fly
down from Chicago? 

Please do not cancel your celebration. If for no other reason, gather and celebrate the very fact that you are still alive and well and able to gather
and celebrate. Perhaps the old adage about good intentions is true. I know
now that if I had given in to that dark, joyless thought - as good as my
intentions were at the time - I would have regretted it the rest of my life.
We all needed this gathering. For different reasons, perhaps, but it served
us all well. Of that I am sure.

Party time! There we were: The Birthday Girl and her Gentleman Friend,
both sons, each with his respective gorgeous, elegantly-attired, devoted
wife on his arm, the now one-year-old granddaughter (who was, needless
to say, the star of the show, the apple of everyone’s eye, decked out in
her brand-spanking-new party dress). The Elders of the Clan (Birthday
Girl’s aunt and uncle) graced us with their presence, rounding out the
gathering to a representation of four generations.

My Gentleman Friend and I could not resist beginning the celebration
about an hour ahead of schedule. On the patio, with a cocktail or two. Or
was it three?  
Ohmigod. What might you find in the way of cocktails at Commander’s? Why, Sazeracs, of course, and French 75s (for me, the quintessential celebratory libation!). Or how about an Absinthe Suissesse,
a Kir Orleans?  Perhaps a New Orleans Gin Fizz, or Godchaux Plantation Punch. If none of those delectable drinks tickles your fancy, you are sure
to find one that will.  You can trust me on that. I cannot guarantee you, however, the serendipitous weather with which we were blessed this past Sunday. The clear blue sky, the glorious sunshine sparkling through the waving palms, the magnificent autumnal day, the invigorating chill in the
air (a borderline miracle in New Orleans!).

Okay. I know what you’re thinking. What about the FOOD? Well. I am still chastising myself for lack of foresight. I could have actually recorded every single morsel if only I had thought of it in time. Highlights I can give you, however.  Along with my personal menu:

Oven Roasted Gulf Oysters
Topped with garlic, artichokes, French bread crumbs,
Parmesan cheese and cracked black pepper touched with virgin olive oil

To die for!

Pecan Crusted Trout
With crushed corn sauce ~
finished with a jumbo lump crabmeat and pinched herb salad

And, of course, the infamous,  oh-so-decadent, chocolate-lover’s dream…

Chocolate Fudge Sheba

The Riesling flowed like water, and I am embarrassed to tell you how
much Garlic Bread I ate. But then, who was counting? Did they have
to carry me out? Who cares???

Several in our party opted for one of the specials not listed on the Commander’s web site menu – Crab Pain Perdu.  I was led to believe
they had no regrets!  Others indulged in:

Eggs Jeannette (named for Chef Jamie Shannon’s wife)
Garlic and black pepper crusted pork loins served sliced and simmered
in a rich mushroom and leek sauce placed atop a sage biscuit and finished
with two poached eggs and Creole Hollandaise (recipe follows)

My Gentleman Friend seemed quite pleased indeed with his Chocolate
Molten Soufflé
. The popular dessert choice was Commander’s signature
Bread Pudding Soufflé. The revelers were too busy eating to comment,
which I interpret as 5 stars.

Ah, yes. Lest I forget. At present, Commander’s Jazz Brunch menu
does not include the aforementioned Eggs Creole, Hussarde, Soubise,
or Basin Street. It may, however, include Eggs Sardou, Garden District
Eggs, and Eggs Jeannette.

More recipes?  Y’all ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie!  How about some


Eggs Jeannette

Commander's Kitchen:
Take Home the True Taste
of New Orleans with More
than 150 Recipes from
Commander's Palace Restaurant

by Ti Adelaide Martin and Jamie Shannon, 2000,
Broadway Books, a division of Random House, Inc.

Makes 4 servings

“Can you improve a classic?  Yep. I’d put money on it that we probably have served more Eggs Benedict, the classic brunch dish of poached egg with Canadian bacon and hollandaise that an other restaurant. But Chef Jamie and my mother, Ella,
were lamenting one day that customers were sticking with the old egg dishes and
not trying our new versions. Mom loved one of them, ‘that new egg dish with the
sage buttermilk biscuits and the roasted pork loin. It’s really better than Eggs Benedict, you know.’ What did he call it?  ‘Poached Eggs with Roasted Pork
Loin,’ Jamie said. We try not to name too many dishes after people, but Mom
thought this should be an exception. ‘Let’s name it after your wife.’ After all,
she said, Jeanette was a great New Orleans name. Now this new classic is a
top seller.”

Pork Loin:
1 pound boneless pork loin
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
Kosher salt and freshly ground
black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, for dusting
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, cut in half, thinly sliced
10 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 cups cold water
1 tablespoon hot sauce, or to taste

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh sage
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold, unsalted
butter, cut into 1-inch cubes
3/4 to 1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For serving:
8 poached eggs
1 cup Hollandaise Sauce (refer to Eggs Sardou recipe)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Season the pork with the rosemary,
salt, and pepper, and dust it with the flour over a large bowl to catch any
excess seasoning and flour.
Place a roasting pan over two burners on the stovetop over high heat. Melt
the butter in the pan, being careful not to burn it. Place the loin in the pan
fat side down, sear for about 4 minutes, turn the meat, add the onion and
garlic, and cook for about 8 minutes. Remove the loin.
Add the excess flour and seasoning from the large bowl to the pan, stir to incorporate, about 1 minute, gradually add the cold water while stirring,
and bring to a boil. Return the loin to the pan, and place in the preheated
oven. Roast for about 1 hour, or until the sauce seems slightly thickened
and the loin is completely cooked. Remove the pan from the oven, and
remove the loin from the sauce. Let the meat rest.
When the loin is cool enough to handle, cut it in thin slices (each about 1/16
of an inch), return the pork to the pan, and simmer about 30 minutes, to get the pork extremely tender. Adjust sauce consistency while simmering. Add
the hot sauce and adjust seasoning. Keep warm until serving time.
Keep the oven at 400 degrees F. for the biscuits.
Sift the flour, salt, baking powder, sugar, and pepper into a large bowl.
Add the sage. Gently work the butter into the mixture, being careful to
keep the butter pieces about the size of peas. Form a well in the center of
the mixture and add 3/4 cup of buttermilk and the baking soda. Using a
rubber spatula, lightly fold the mixture so that it’s just sticky and the dry
ingredients are just moistened – no longer. Add more buttermilk if needed
for the proper feel.
The idea is to create layers so the butter will steam and will serve as a leavening agent to help the biscuits rise. The less the dough is handled,
the, flakier the biscuits will be.
On a counter lightly dusted with flour, flatten the dough to about 1 1/2-inch thickness. Using a flour-dusted cutter 3 inches in diameter, cut the dough
into 4 biscuit shapes. Arrange them in a 9-inch pie tin so that the biscuits
are touching; this helps them stay moist while baking. Bake the biscuits for
20 minutes, but do not overbake. Remember: The last 10 percent of the
cooking will occur after they’re removed from the oven.
To serve, split each biscuit in half horizontally, set two halves side by side
in the center of each dinner plate, place about 2 ounces of pork on each
biscuit half, top each with an equal amount of sauce, from the roasted
pork, place a poached egg on each biscuit half, and top each half with
about 2 tablespoons of hollandaise sauce.

Chef Jamie’s Tips:  Be sure the pork is tender. It can be made in advance
and reheated before serving. With a little practice, the biscuits will be
perfect. The biscuits could be made with a different herb (marjoram or
rosemary, for example), or with none at all.

 Until next time, remember,

"In order to create there must be a dynamic force,
and what force is more potent than love?"
~ Igor Stravinsky

And, as the Germans say,
"So jung kommen wir nie mehr zusammen." 


More recipes from Commander's Palace
In Memoriam - Chef Jamie Shannon
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?

"It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love,
are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think
of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I
am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the
love of it and the hunger for it… and then the warmth and richness and
fine reality of hunger satisfied… and it is all one."

~ M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating icon icon



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