My Christmas plans include a concert at St. Louis Cathedral followed by a Reveillon dinner in the Quarter.

Around 50 restaurants in New Orleans have stepped up to the tradition of special holiday meals, but the original Reveillon repasts happened at midnight Christmas Eve in the homes of French Quarter residents.

The celebration comes from word “réveiller” meaning to awaken. And our hungry forebears, having fasted the day of Christmas Eve and attending midnight Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, welcomed what was considered a modest breakfast. Actually, in a prosperous Creole home, the meal might include three courses of dishes such as daube glacé, grillades, eggs, oysters and gumbo.

Thanks to French Quarter Festivals, Inc., we have restored this tradition, differently, but calling attention to the mood and food of yesteryear and especially the sharing of food with family and friends.  
Lights and Christmas music add to the feeling with free concerts most nights of December in the cathedral and a major Christmas concert on Christmas Eve.

I like the idea of having my own Reveillon dinner at home. Most participating restaurants serve three and four courses. I have chosen the following three-course meal of French dishes that might well have been served in old New Orleans on Christmas Eve.

Chocolate Mousse

The following recipe is adapted from Julia Child s From Julia Child’s Kitchen.
4 large eggs
¼ cup water
1 ½ Tablespoons instant coffee
¾ cup sugar
1/4 cup brandy
6 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips
6 ounces butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
Pinch salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar

Separate eggs with whites going into the bowl of an electric mixer and yolks into a medium stainless steel bowl. With a wire whip, beat the yolks until thick.

   Set a double boiler with 1 inch of water in bottom pan over high heat. Add ¼ cup water to the top pan, then add coffee and stir to dissolve. Gradually add the sugar, stirring constantly until dissolved. This should boil briefly until the mixture is clear, not cloudy. Remove from heat and very slowly dribble hot mixture into egg yolks while whisking. Set aside.

   Reheat the double boiler to medium heat and add brandy to the same pan used to melt sugar. Add chocolate chips, stirring occasionally, until melted. Remove from pan with boiling water. Place bowl with eggs over boiler on a low simmer and whisk over low heat until mixture has doubled in volume for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and place bowl over a larger bowl of cold water. With a hand mixer, beat mixture until a thick ribbon forms when you lift the mixer.

   Make sure chocolate is still completely melted. If not, return to boiler, stirring, until completely melted. Whisk for a few seconds and remove from hot water. Beat in butter, piece by piece. Fold chocolate mixture into egg yolks, using a rubber spatula and working quickly.

   While chocolate mixture is still warm, beat egg whites in electric mixer. When soft peaks form, add cream of tartar and salt and continue beating until stiff peaks form. Add a fourth of beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture and fold in with a rubber spatula. Turn rest of egg whites and rapidly fold in, deflating egg whites as little as possible.

   Spoon into individual ramekins or a single large bowl.

Serves 8

Oyster Bisque

4 dozen large oysters with extra liquor (double if oysters are small)
5 Tablespoons butter
5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions, white and green parts separated and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 pods garlic, minced
4 cups oyster liquor and water, if needed
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons Creole seasoning
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 cups Half & Half
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt to taste
Flat-leaf parsley, chopped, about 3 Tablespoons plus extra for garnish

Purchase oysters at a seafood store and ask for extra liquor. Drain oysters reserving liquor. Check each oyster for any shell. Set aside.  

   In a large heavy skillet or medium heavy pot, melt butter, stir in flour and cook over medium heat, stirring, until mixed and thickened. You should have a blonde roux the color of straw. Add white onions and celery and sauté for about 5 minutes over low heat. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Gradually add oyster liquor and enough water to make 4 cups while stirring constantly. When mixed well add peppers and Worcestershire. Simmer, covered, over low heat for 15 minutes.

Add 1 dozen oysters to the pot and continue simmering for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop other oysters and set aside.

Using a hand blender, purée the mixture in the pot. Bring heat to medium and add chopped oysters. Simmer until oysters curl. Gradually add Half & Half, stirring over low heat. Taste and add salt if needed. Remove from heat and stir in green onion tops and parsley. Garnish with more chopped parsley and green onion tops.

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer

Beef Bourguignon

1 Tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces thick-sliced smoked bacon, diced
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions, chopped
1 pound baby carrots, cut in halves
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup brandy
2 cups dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 ¼-ounce bundle fresh thyme, tied together
3 dried or 6 fresh bay leaves
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 13-ounce frozen packages pearl onions
1 pound fresh baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3 Tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Rice, cooked, for serving

Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown. Remove bacon to a plate. Salt and pepper beef and brown in single-row batches until brown on all sides. Remove each batch to plate. Sauté onions and carrots in same pot, adding a little oil if needed, for 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add tomato paste and stir for a few minutes. Add brandy, wine and stock. Return bacon and beef to pot, add tied bundle of thyme, bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste, and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour or until meat is tender. When tender, skim any fat from surface and discard.

In a small skillet, melt butter and stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until roux is the color of milk chocolate. Gradually add roux to pot, stirring constantly.

Add frozen onions and mushrooms and cook for 10 to 15 minutes or until onions are done. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove bay leaves and thyme bundle and discard. Stir in parsley. Serve over rice. Sprinkle with more parsley, if desired.

Serves 8 to 10