holidays

Belle Annee on Brandy Milk Punch

New Orleans is full of rituals. There is early morning at Cafe Du Monde when the French Quarter businesses and residents are hosing off their sidewalks, washing down the sins from the night before and steadying themselves for a new batch of visitors. All Saints Day at the cemetery where you cut down, clean up and tidy around the ancient stone monuments to loved ones since passed. Thanksgiving at "The Track" when you wear a silly hat or posh fascinator purchased at Fleur de Paris, long drunken Friday lunches at Galatoire's, only ordering fish on Fridays and always having your red beans and rice on Mondays. And always, always, WWOZ on the radio.

 

Photo by Gabrielle Geiselman // www.gabriellegeiselman.com.

Then there are drinks. Drinks are a bit of a rite of passage. Hurricanes and Hand Grenades are the beverage of choice in college when you can miraculously survive the onslaught of cheep booze and bright artificial colors. Spicy Bloody Marys call Sunday home as you say goodbye to the weekend and prepare for the business ahead. Pimm's are very best in the heat of summer when the fruits that adorn them are at their ripest and juiciest. Sazaracs become the aperitif of choice once you establish an appreciation for whiskey and then, one day, you are turned onto the best daytime cocktail ever. Ever. The Brandy Milk Punch.

Like so many things in New Orleans the origins of Brandy Milk Punch were likely beyond the shores of America but it was the restaurateurs of the city that gave the drink a rebirth as the preemenint Brunch cocktail. Today's version is a combination of brandy (sometimes bourbon), milk, simple syrup and vanilla. It goes down smoothly and is appreciated by spirited young men, elegant elderly women and just about everyone in between.

The very best way to make Brandy Milk Punch is by the jar. My friend Julie does that and it has become her hostess gift when invited to dinner parties. You have never seen someone invited to as many dinner parties as Julie. If you are going to make it by the batch, like Julie, my favorite bottle is this one because it looks really nice and pours easily. You just need a funnel to fill it. You can also make it in Mason jars - easier to mix but not as neat to pour. Life is a trade off, ya know?

This is a fantastic cocktail for this time of year, when it's a little cold, a little wet, a little rainy and you just want to start your Sunday brunch a little later and enjoy it a little more.

Brandy Milk Punch By The Glass:

2 ounces Brandy

1 ounce simple syrup (if you are anywhere near New Orleans try to find Locally Preserved cane simple syrup - it is a little richer in flavor than regular simple syrup)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 ounce milk

1/2 ounce whipping cream

fresh nutmeg

Put all ingredients into a cocktail shaker and add a cup of ice. Shake it until your arms hurt, then strain into a champagne coupe or strain over a fresh whiskey glass of ice. Top with fresh grated nutmeg.

 

Brandy Milk Punch By the 24-oz Bottle:

10 ounces Brandy

5 ounces simple syrup

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

7 ounces milk

2 1/2 ounces whipping cream

Add ingredients into the bottle through a funnel. Give it a good shake and then put it in the freezer for one to two hours. Take it out, give it another shake and then show up at the dinner party of your choosing. Invited or not. It won't matter.

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For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.comPhotos by Gabrielle Geiselman // www.gabriellegeiselman.com.

Belle Annee's Mardi Gras Survival Guide

Mardi Gras in New Orleans means different things to different people. Whether you are a visitor, a local, a writer, a dancer or a banker there is somewhere for you to fit in and to have the time of your life. And like any good venture in life, you get out of it what you put into it. So here is your guide to getting the most out of Mardi Gras.

1. The 101.

Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday) is both a single day and a season. The day falls, technically, the day before Ash Wednesday but people interchangeably use the terms Mardi Gras and Carnival to refer to the time period starting on Twelfth Night (January 6th) and concluding at midnight (sharp) the night before Ash Wednesday. What you need to know is that the real party lasts the final six days of Carnival. It begins in earnest the Wednesday before Fat Tuesday and increases in intensity until Mardi Gras Day when you are up and in costume by 8am very possibly a fragile shell of your former self.

The most important thing to know is that Mardi Gras is not a sprint. It is not even a marathon. It is an endurance race - one of those multi-day things that goes through the desert and if you get lost you'll have only your wits and an occasional flying rodent to sustain you. Pace yourself. It’s okay to turn things down. Don’t peak early and tumble down the other side.

2. The Po-Po.

The police you see in the street are overworked, overstressed, cold and tired of dealing with drunk people. That said they are also really fantastic at their job during Mardi Gras. They keep the peace, keep people safe and usually have a decent time. They will turn the other cheek to most transgressions but two that they will quickly make you regret are relieving yourself in public and fighting. Both will get you thrown in jail. It is important to know that if you do get tossed in the slammer you don't get out until after Mardi Gras Day. So find a bathroom and keep your hands to yourself.

3. Know where you belong.

Mardi Gras provides something for everyone. College kids, families, European visitors, single ladies, LGTBQ…but know your neighborhood divides:

Uptown is where the local families celebrate and they don't appreciate a load of obscenity and nakedness around their children. Be good to them and they will be good to you. It's easy to shake an invitation to a pot of red beans or a clean bathroom by being respectful and helping their kids catch beads. It's also easy to be the subject of some very angry neighborhood dads if you spill beer on Grandma and intercept little Joey's foam football.

The Bywater & Marigny: Mardi Gras Day is the day for the LGTBQ community. If you are any of those letters get to sleep early on Monday and be prepared to put your most fabulous foot forward on Tuesday morning at about 8am in the Bywater. Head to Mimi's and wait for the party to find you. You'll know it when you see it.

Frenchman Street: This is where to find music, restaurants and a lot of people. No parades but there is enough to keep you occupied. No kids here. 21+ only.

The French Quarter can be a super fun place to hang out if you are under 30. Plan to spend a lot of money on drinks stay on the main drag. Don’t forget that point about not upsetting the police. If you happen to still be lucid and in the French Quarter super late on Mardi Gras Day try to get up onto a balcony at 11:45pm. At midnight a thick line of police on horseback, followed by police on foot, followed by cars, followed by a clean-up crew make a sweep down Bourbon Street and make Mardi Gras vanish without a trace. It’s pretty cool to see.

4. Dress Code

If you are going to costume, which you TOTALLY should, make sure you mask has a hole to drink through. Also make sure you can easily use the bathroom in your costume. You need to commit to your fabulous alter ego -- no removing of wigs, even if they itch. No washing off of face paint until you are tucked in at home. Check the weather, dress appropriately and layer. Absolutely no purses.

5. Transport

Plan to walk everywhere and wear super comfortable shoes that you don't mind ruining. There is a lot of weird blurg on the ground and you are certain to step in it. If you think you are parked illegally, plan to be towed. The city has a huge collection of tow trucks and drivers who love this time of year.

6. All the small things

Tune your radio to WWOZ 90.7. Carry cash. Not too much. Leave your nice jewelry at home. Travel in packs. Don't be obnoxious. Keep Advil on hand. Drink lots of water. Carry a small pack of anti bacterial wipes. Never pass up a clean bathroom.

7. NOW….the good stuff

The parades! There is actually a guide to every official parade, its route and a little story about it. You can find that here. Now, install the WDSU parade tracker app on your phone so you know where to be and when. This will also help you know exactly how long you have to go find a bathroom before the parades start. You can’t make it to all 60 parades that roll through the Greater New Orleans area so pick a few and make them happen.

Try this out for a starter list:

NYX (pronounced Nicks). This is the newest all-female Mardi Gras Krewe founded in 2012 after soooooo many women wanted to join the highly revered Muses that they had to close their wait list. Nyx is applauded for diversity (as long as you are female) and their signature throw is a purse. There are 1200+ of these women and a lot of strong marching bands. They roll Wednesday evening (Feb. 11th) at 7pm following the Krewe of Druids. Krewe d'etat is a smaller parade with only 21 floats but it's satirical theme means it is often a favorite of critics. The captain and officers ride on horseback throughout the parade and The Dictator remains a secret until the day they parade. Members of the krewe dressed as walking skeletons hand out the papers and wooden doubloons at the parades. This one's funny and will definitely give you an education about what is frustrating locals at the moment. (6:30pm Friday, February 13th)

MUSES, Don't let the boys tell you the girls can't play!   Muses rolled into town in 2000  and made the boys want to pack up their balls and go home. They continue as a Super Krewe in high demand with outstanding throws (one of the top catches at Mardi Gras is a Muses Shoe) and sarcastic themes and float titles.  Plus, if you weren't sure, check this out:  In 2013, the Honorary Muse was Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to attend an all white elementary school in the south.  Bam.  (Thursday, February 12th, 6:30pm)

ENDYMION This is one of the three Super Krewes so called because of their huge krewes, large floats, increasing use of technology for lights and music and celebrity Grand Marshals Endymion bosts the world’s largest Mardi Gras float at 330 feet long, holing 230 riders and cost $1.2 million to build. This parade goes through Mid City and is a huge, huge locals and family parade. Line up early for this one. It rolls at 4:15 but generally goes well into the night. (Saturday, February 14th.)

THOTH This is a huge day-parade that has been rolling for 67 years. It rolls on Sunday at noon and is a big hit with kids. There are 40 floats and the riders are boisterous neighborhood dwellers. (Sunday, February 15th)

KREWE OF TUCKS is a basically a rolling fratnerity house. Expect lots of potty humor. The kids love it! (Noon, Saturday, February 14th)

KREWE OF ORPHEUS is the most musical of the parades having been founded by Harry Connick Junior and being named after the musically-inclined son of Zeus and Calliope. This was also the first Super Krewe to allow both male and female riders and locals LOVE this parade. It is the last thing you do before you go to sleep the night before Mardi Gras Day. (6pm Monday, February 16th)

ZULU Probably the parade with the richest history, Zulu is known primarily as an African American Krewe although they have a diverse ridership of ethnicities and gender. They have 50 floats, 20+ bands and famously begin lining up on Mardi Gras day at 4am. FOUR A.M.! The catch of all catches at Mardi Gras is a Zulu Coconut. They hand it out, they aren’t allowed to thow it anymore. Shame. (Tuesday, February 17th, 8am)

REX, the King of Mardi Gras, has been parading longer than any other organization and the king of Rex is considered King of Carnival. Each year it is an older man who is prominent in the community (usually for social, business and philanthropic endeavors)and a lovely younger woman who is the daughter of a prominent family. This parade is a "Must See" but keep in mind the element of observation. The floats contain maskers in original costumes and elaborately decorated and hand-painted floats but they are notoriously stingy with throws. Appreciate it if you catch something. (Tuesday, February 17th 10am)

And that’s about it. Pace yourself, wear a costume, don’t pee in public. You’re golden! See you on The Route. And until you get here, turn this on and turn it up!

 

For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.comPhotos by Gabrielle Geiselman // www.gabriellegeiselman.com.

FOOD & WINE FEATURE: CHEF JOHN BESH'S NEW ORLEANS CHRISTMAS

Looking for some recipe inspiration for the upcoming holidays? Look no further! Whether you’re looking for more traditional items or want to try a new tradition for the holidays, this is the perfect place to start. As featured on Food and Wine, here are some of John’s favorite holiday recipes. Try his Horseradish and Herb Crusted Beef Rib Roast, and for a savory dessert that everyone will enjoy, try his Poached Pear and Brown Butter Tart. Or for those of you looking for a more southern or New Orleans flare, try his Oyster Dressing “Grand-Mere.” This perfectly represents New Orleans flavor, and is one of Chef’s favorite dishes to make for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Belle Année on Assembling a Cheeseboard

Once a month, the Chef John Besh blog will feature a guest blog post from one of Chef Besh’s closest friends, Jessica Bride. This New Orleans native is an amazing wife, mother of three, avid traveler, soon-to-be cookbook author, and she co-founded the John Besh & Bride Mayor Chefs Move! Scholarship

There were two unmistakable signs in my life that I had reached adulthood.  The first was that I started keeping scissors in my kitchen accepting that, for the rest of my life, I would need to be able to cut open bags of frozen peas and the plastic bag inside of cereal boxes and that there was a better method than using my teeth.

The second was when I learned how to assemble a cheeseboard.  I was 25 and living on my own in NYC.  It was empowering to know that for a small amount of money and a little bit of effort I could invite people over for a wine and cheese gathering.  Pretentious too.  Empowering and Pretentious. Jackpot.

The problem with cheese, like Google, is that the more you learn the more you realize there is to know.  Before you know it you too are sending pictures of cats singing Christmas carols.  At some point you have to just declare, “Enough!”  There is a middle ground between tossing Nacho Cheese Flavored Doritos into a basket and being shunned from dinner parties for accurately pronouncing the Sternschnuppe that you had a friendly German goat herder you befriended on SnapChat mail to you.

Once you recognize this middle-ground it only makes sense to be able to put it together to create a winning cheeseboard.   And this, along with scissors, propels you into bona fide adulthood.  At any age.

The secret to a winning cheeseboard is finding cheeses and accompaniments that go well together and that appeal to your guests.  Once you invite someone over, this is no longer about you.   You want to create something that is enticing and gorgeous…and that says, “I did this for you!”

Logically, the first thing you need is a tray or plate to serve the cheese on.   You want this to be flat, large and rustic.  It looks way better to serve cheese on something that may have been collected from a building site than on your grandmother’s best china.  One of my secrets is, actually, using building materials.  You can pick up 18-inch-square paving slates or marble tile samples for $5- $10 from Home Depot or a tile showroom.   Alternatively use your darkest wood cutting board.  Remember to consider the size – you want your platter to look full but not crowded.

The next thing you need is a different knife for each cheese and a small spoon for any gooey cheeses.

After that you need a baguette and plain water crackers.  For a baguette you are looking for something long and thin that you can slice into pieces just thinner than your pinky finger.  For crackers your best bet is your favorite variety of Carr’s Water Biscuits.

Now, you have your serving platter, your knives and your bread.  Let’s add the cheese!

 

For the beginner:

It is important to remember your audience.   If your guest of honor is Aunt Myrtle and she thinks the McRib is exotic, don’t  make her uncomfortable with a  bunch of retched dairy products.  You can show off your expertise by making your cheeseboard simple and beautiful…and perfectly pitched.

For the beginner cheese board, select one cheese in each of these three categories:

Hard:

One year aged Manchego.  (Spain)
Midnight Moon (Holland)
One year aged Gouda (Holland)
Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar (USA)
Cave Aged Gruyere (Switzerland)

Soft:

Saint Andre (France)
Vermont Creamery Cremont (USA)

Stinky:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Epoisses (France)
Cambozola (Germany)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed, dried and portioned into small bunches of 5-10 grapes each.

 

Intermediate:

Here you are putting together a cheeseboard for a group of friends or coworkers with generous dining-out allowances from their work, spouses or trust funds.  These are people who you know love wine and cheese and who will appreciate the extra effort you make.  These are cheeses that are a little more intense in flavor and might need to be located at a store with a specialty cheese section. 

Pick one cheese in each of these four categories: 

Hard:

Aged Manchego (Spain)
Aged Gouda (Dutch)
Cabot Creamery Clothbound Cheddar (USA)
Comte (France)
Roth Kase Roth Granqueso (USA)

Soft:

Saint Andre  (French)
Vermont Creamery Cremont (USA)
La Tur (French)
Explorateur (French)

Stinky:

Epoisses (French)
Morbier (French)
Stinking Bishop (England)

Blue:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Stilton (England)
Bay Blue, Point Reyes (USA)
Roaring Forties (Australia)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed and portioned into small bits
A piece of spicy dried salami, partially sliced (leaving some for your guests to slice)
Quince paste or fig jam

 

Advanced:

Now, you are ready to show off.  Trainspotters only on this one.  These cheeses are mostly the same as intermediate but you are going to add a cheese category and let your cheeses tell a story.  Select all cheeses typical for their country of origin for instance or all cheeses from one country and get people to guess the country.  Also consider serving a sweet wine – such as a vintage port no younger than 25 years old or a Sauternes, a sweet white wine from France.  Also you are going to up your game on the accompaniments including paring special oatcakes with blue cheese instead of just crackers.  This one is going to cost a little more money and will be a centerpiece for a cocktail evening or a very special dessert for a large dinner party.

Hard:

Aged Manchego (Spain)
Aged Gouda (Holland)
Parmesean (Italy) served with a Parmesean knife
Pecorino Romano (Italy)

Soft:

Brie de Meaux (France)
La Tur (French)
Delice de Bourgogne (France)
Brillat-Savarin (France)
Explorateur (France)
Robiola Piemonte (Italy)

Stinky:

Epoisses (France)
Morbier (France)
Vacherin Mont D’Or (Switzerland)
Jasper Hill Farm Winnimere (USA)
Fontina d'Aosta (Italy)

Blue:

Gorganzola Mountain (Italy)
Stilton (England)
Roaring Forties (Australia)
Dolcelatte (Italy)
Bay Blue, Point Reyes (USA)

Goat:

Humbolt Fog (USA)
Valencay (France)
Vermont Creamery Coupole (USA)

And add a few extras:

1 bunch of sweet red grapes, washed and portioned into small bits
A piece of spicy dried salami, partially sliced (leaving some for your guests to slice)
Quince paste or fig jam
1 box of oatcake crackers to pair with the blue cheese in addition to the other crackers and baguette
6oz thinly sliced Brasaola (air dried beef)
A handful of pickled vegetables
A handful of olives with seeds

(Nothing says sophistication like serving olives with pits and watching your guests hold intelligent conversation while trying to suavely discard an olive pit from their mouths.   Don’t forget the little cup to catch all the disgustingly chewed up remains set near, but not on, the cheeseboard)

Final notes:

Plan on 3-5 oz of cheese per person depending on whether it is a dessert course (less needed) or a stand alone party tray (more needed)

Make an effort to remember the names of the cheeses and their countries of origin.  If you have a terrible memory then just write them down as you unwrap and discard the labels.   If all goes well you will, most certainly, be asked to write them down for an adoring fan.

And very lastly, cheese is about a million times better if it is served at room temperature – especially really ooey gooey stinky cheeses.  Take them out several hours in advance and let them come to room temperature.  For ooey gooey cheeses (like Epoisses) put them in a warm spot for a few hours.  Maybe  a location that catches the sun for an hour, or on the counter near you oven.

And that’s it!  Piece of cake.  Cheesecake of course.

For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.com

Belle Année on Champagne Cocktails

Jessica Bride is an amazing wife, mother of three, avid traveler, soon-to-be cookbook author, and she co-founded the John Besh & Bride Mayor Chefs Move! Scholarship

There are tons of things I didn’t know about British people before I married one. For  starters, they are incredibly funny. Not just the odd one here or there, but all of them. As  a breed. Just funny. They also invented the stiff upper lip. And whatever the opposite of exaggeration is. When my husband has an absolutely horrible day and his clients quit  and his boss hates him and his ideas stink and he steps in dog poop and scratches the side of his new car he freaks out with something like, “That’s not the best day I’ve ever had.”  It’s like they carry the loss of the Empire with them on a daily basis and nothing, nothing, seems bad after that.

But here was my favorite discovery: They love Champagne. Like the way you love that Call Me Maybe song even though you pretend you don’t. Like southerners love college football. The way Millennials love positive feedback. All the time. No special event required.

Nick, my aforementioned British husband, even has friends whose black and white spaniel recognizes the shape of a Champagne bottle and goes crazy when one is pulled out until someone shoots the cork out of the top so he can chase and retrieve it. Sticks? Not interested. A ball? Save your time. Champagne cork? Barney is all over it.

I, like the rest of the world not speaking The Queen’s English, used to think of Champagne as a special event drink but I’ve enjoyed getting used to it as an every day thing. Right now (this may get embarrassing) I have two magnums of Veuve Cliquot and several bottles of Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose in our garage refrigerator, three bottles of Prosecco in the wine refrigerator, a bottle of Gruet and two bottles each of Pol Roger and Nicholas Feuillatte calling my name from their cozy little nook under the stairs. Of course Champagne may best be served ice cold and in perfect crystal Champagne flutes but with all of these bottles knocking around the place, and with my propensity to take anything simple and overcomplicate it, it was inevitable that I would eventually tackle champagne cocktails. Fortunately this is the perfect time of year because Halloween is just around the corner and after that, like dominos, comes Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hannakuh, Festivus, New Year’s Eve, Valentines Day and Monday.

So stick the bubbly in the fridge and polish up the Champagne flutes. There is no time like the present to try your hand at discovering or perfecting a signature cocktail for the season.

 

 

Grand Champagne Cocktail

Sugar cube
Angostura Bitters
¾ oz Grand Marnier
Sparkling Wine

Soak a sugar cube with 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and place in the bottom of a champagne flute. Add a half jigger (3/4 ounce) of Grand Marnier. Fill with very, very
cold sparkling wine and top with a lemon twist.

BEST MADE WITH

a dry domestic version: Gruet, Ceja, Jordan

Champagne & Chambord

¾ oz Chambord
Champagne
Raspberry

In a champagne coupe add ½ jigger (3/4 oz) Chambord and fill with cold Champagne. Top with a fresh raspberry.

BEST MADE WITH

French Champagne or sparkling wine or Prosecco.

Champagne Mojito 

Sugar cube
½ ounce white rum
4 mint leaves
1 lime wedge
club soda
Sparkling wine

Place a sugar cube in the bottom of stemmed glass. Add ½ jigger (3/4 oz) white rum, 3 mint leaves and the juice of a lime wedge. Add a splash of club soda and stir. Fill to the very, very top with ice and then top with Champagne. Garnish with a lime and mint leaf.

BEST MADE WITH

Prosecco or American sparkling wine

St. Germain Cocktail

½ ounce Hendricks Gin
½ ounce St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
Champagne
Lemon and/or cucumber

In a Champagne coupe add ½ ounce Hendricks Gin and ½ ounce Elderflower liqueur. Pour in a very cold sparkling wine, preferably Champagne. Garnish with either a lemon twist or a cucumber.

BEST MADE WITH

French or American sparkling wine

St. Germain Spritzer

For a lighter alcohol version of the St. Germain Cocktail, fill a Champagne flute with one part elderflower soda and 3 parts Champagne. Garnish with a lemon twist.

BEST MADE WITH

French or American sparkling wine

And there is no way a round up of cocktails from a writer in New Orleans is complete without the French 75.

French 75

Most places make this classic, lemony cocktail with gin but of course, in New Orleans, it is done differently. We use Cognac.

1 oz Cognac
½ oz fresh lemon juice
¼ oz simple syrup
Champagne
Lemon peel

Combine Cognac, lemon juice and simple syrup in a champagne glass. Top with Champagne and serve with a lemon peel.

BEST MADE WITH

French or American sparkling wine

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For more from Jessica Bride, visit www.belleannee.com