July Fourth Drink Recipe: Agua Fresca

Agua FrescaBy now, we all know (or at least we should know) that soft drinks are terrible for us and especially for children.  Those “fruit” punches are only slightly better.  Even 100% fruit juice has way more sugar in a single serving than children need.

So what’s a loving mom to do?  The Mexican street beverage, Agua Fresca, is the answer.  In essence it is just watered down fruit juice.  By mixing 2 parts water to 1 part of your favorite fruit juice you can make a refreshing and healthy drink for your kids.  Plus by having a cool name like Agua Fresca (aka Aguas de Frutas) your kids may not realize they are drinking something healthy.  You can also make it by pureeing fresh fruit with water in your blender (honeydew and cantaloupe are great for this).

Imagine getting a whole week out of one small bottle of juice and it only takes seconds to prepare.  Plus you always have fruit juice on hand for gastriques and other fancy reduction sauces.

The Agua Fresca pictured was made by mixing 1 quart orange/pineapple juice and 2 tablespoons raw local honey with 2 quarts water.  Some of my other favorites include mango, blueberry/pomegranate and honeydew.  Mixing in the raw local honey will add ample sweetness to boost the flavor of the drink without adding unhealthy processed sugar.  Honey is remarkably healthy.  Agave nectar is another healthy option.  Additionally, fresh squeezed juice is better than buying bottled juice but is not always practical.

Be sure to check out my full Easter Brunch Menu HERE.

Recipe: Creamy Creole Potato Salad

Recipe from Third Coast Cuisine by Stuart Reb Donald

Here’s a freebee from Third Coast Cuisine.  You’ve heard the phrase “less is more?”  Well this potato salad is a prime example of that mantra.  It is ridiculously easy to make.

The first time I made this for my mother she looked at it and said, “There’s no onions.  It’s not potato salad without onions.”

I said, “Try it first.”

She said, “I just have never liked a potato salad that didn’t include onions.”

Again I suggested, “Try it.”

She continued to protest, “I’ve never understood why people leave onions out of their potato salad.  It’s . . .”

As rude as it was I interrupted her, “Stop talking and try it.”  I presented a spoonful to her.

“Ooh, wow, that’s good, son.  That’s really good.  There’s so much garlic!”

Lots of fresh crushed garlic is really the secret.  And it is so simple to make.  Well, see for yourself:

Creamy Creole Potato Salad
1 pound red skin potatoes, boiled
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup Creole whole grain mustard
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup bacon bits

Cut potatoes into 1/2” dice. In a large bowl combine mayonnaise, mustard, garlic and bacon bits. Gently fold in the warm potatoes and coat completely with dressing. Chill for an hour before serving.

Tips: Adding bacon bits is always acceptable.  Even some chopped up boiled egg would be OK as well.  Garnish with bright colors like diced yellow peppers or cherry tomatoes.

Brunch Recipe: French Toast Bread Pudding

Many people don’t know that French Toast and Bread Pudding are essentially the same thing – stale bread saturated with custard that is cooked until it has a crunchy exterior and a gooey interior – the stuff dreams are made of.  Individual nuances include the thickness of the bread and the cooking method, French Toast is grilled where Bread Pudding is baked.  Also different is the adornment, French toast usually gets butter and maple syrup and bread pudding a hard sauce made with butter, whiskey or rum and cane sugar.

This recipe combines the best of both worlds by taking a bread pudding made with French bread and maple glazed doughnuts that is finished with maple sugar brulee and topped with a hard sauce of maple syrup, bourbon and butter.  Not enough flash for you?  How about a little blackberry compote on the side?  You’re welcome.

This recipe is tailor made for Christmas brunch.  You can read the recipes next or watch the video (minus the compote and maple brulee) at the bottom.

Recipe: Bread Pudding


  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 5 large beaten eggs
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups French bread, cubed and stale
  • 1 cup maple glazed doughnuts, cubed and stale
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted pecans (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (American).
  2. Grease a 13 by 9 by 2-inch pan with butter.
  3. Whisk together the white sugar, eggs and milk in a bowl then mix in the bourbon vanilla. Pour over cubed bread and set aside for about 10 minutes.
  4. In another bowl, mix and crumble together brown sugar, butter and pecans. Pour bread mixture into prepared pan. Sprinkle brown sugar mixture over the top and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until set. Remove from oven.

Quick Notes

To stale bread you can put it in a large bowl lightly covered with a dish towel and set out overnight or place in a 150 degree oven for 10 – 20 minutes.


You can substitute regular vanilla for the bourbon vanilla and add a teaspoon of Maker’s Mark.

Recipe: Maple Sugar Brulee (Optional)


  • 1/2 cup Maple sugar


  1. Evenly sprinkle the maple sugar across the top of the cooked bread pudding.
  2. Either caramelize the maple sugar with a chef’s torch or place under a preheated broiler until the sugar has melted.

Quick Notes

You can skip the brulee altogether if you like. It’s an extra textural element but is not crucial to the overall dish.

Recipe: Hard Sauce


  • 1 cup Grade A maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 teaspoons bourbon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup Maker’s Mark whiskey


  1. Mix together the syrup, butter, egg, and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Stir together until well blended.
  3. Add the bourbon, stirring well.
  4. Pour over the top of the bread pudding.

Quick Notes

Margarine is not acceptable.

Recipe: Blackberry Compote (optional)


  • ½ cup Water
  • ¼ cup Agave nectar
  • 1½ TBL Lemon juice
  • 1 tsp Cinnamon
  • 3 cups Fresh or frozen blackberries


  1. Bring water, agave, juice and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan over moderate heat.
  2. Simmer until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Allow to cool to lukewarm.
  3. Purée 2 cups blackberries with all of syrup in a blender. Force purée through a fine sieve into a bowl to remove seeds.
  4. Stir remaining cup of berries into sauce.

Quick Notes

Fruit is a common topping for French Toast and many Bread Puddings often contain raisins or fruit cocktail. This compote ties the two together but is best served on the side so the diner can get as much or as little as they prefer.

Easter Brunch Recipe: Seafood Gumbo

In the South it is not at all uncommon to find seafood gumbo as part of a traditional meal like Christmas dinner or Easter brunch.  It is the official soup of the Gulf Coast and highlights the local ingredients especially oysters and crawfish which are at their peak in early Spring.  Before giving you my recipe for gumbo I’ll invite you to watch this short film from the Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off in which Alton Brown was in attendance and even offered his approach to making roux.  If you don’t care to watch the video just scroll on down for the recipe.

Recipe: Seafood Gumbo


  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 1 lb crabmeat
  • 1 lb crawfish tails
  • 1 pint oysters
  • 1 med onion, diced
  • 1 bunch celery stalks, rough chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 lb okra, sliced
  • 1/2 bottle Louisiana Hot Sauce- a whole bottle if you like it HOT!  Omit for sissies.
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • Salt, cayenne pepper, File’, white pepper, & black pepper to taste
  • Bay leaves
  • 1 quart fish stock or shrimp stock



  1. Boil rice in well salted water with a bay leaf and set aside.
  2. In a large stockpot melt butter and add flour to make a roux cook until chocolate brown, roughly 20 minutes.
  3. Add onions, celery, bell peppers, and a little water if needed and simmer a few minutes then add hot sauce, tomatoes, bay leaves, salt, both peppers and fish stock. Simmer for about half an hour.
  4. Add okra and seafood and simmer about another twenty minutes.
  5. Remove bay leaves. Serve hot over rice, and garnish with a sprinkle of file’.

Quick Notes

Gumbo is the African word for okra therefore okra is the one ingredient that cannot be omitted from the recipe.  However you can get creative with it if you just are not a fan like pulverizing it in a food processor or using fried okra as a garnish.  Also, smoked sausage or the French summer sausage Andouille are common additions.

Be sure to check out my full Easter Brunch Menu HERE.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up


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