Gulf Coast

A Brief History of the King Cake

Mardi Gras was first celebrated in the New World in Mobile, AL in 1703.  A half century later residents of the newly established settlement on the Mississippi River called New Orleans wanted to adopt this American style of Carnivàle.  Being neighborly members of Mobile’s Cowbellion de’ Rankin Society ventured west to help out the newcomers.  The rest is history.  Today N’Awlins is famous for its Fat Tuesday celebration but other cities along King CakeAmerica’s Third Coast have a century or more a parading under their belts as well like Biloxi, MS, Pensacola, FL and of course Mobile is still home to the oldest Fat Tuesday celebration in the country.

Many uniquely American customs are part of Mardi Gras lore like secret societies, floats and throws.  Also a key element is the legendary King Cake.  The King Cake is the heart of many a Mardi Gras party.  Little more than a Danish decorated with colorful purple, green and gold sugar or icing the King Cake has something to separate it from the average pastry, a baby.  Each cake has a tiny plastic baby stashed inside.  The tradition being that whoever gets the piece with the baby is the King of the party.  The tradition, like Fat Tuesday itself, predates Christianity in Europe.  King Cake from the amazonThat original Pagan ritual ended with the “winner” being sacrificed.  Thankfully that part of the tradition has fallen to the wayside.

For the longest time King Cake was something to be endured not enjoyed.  It was dry and virtually tasteless but of late Gulf Coast bakers have begun adding flavor to their King Cakes.  Cream cheese is a very popular ingredient these days which provides both flavor and moisture.  Fruits and fruit compotes are also en vogue.  Even those with special diets can enjoy King Cake with recipes for sugar-free and gluten-free cakes now in abundance.

With Mardi Gras just around the corner I urge you to seek out a King Cake from your local baker or order one from the amazon HERE.  Try your hand at one of the great American traditions.  Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Celebrating the Gulf Through It’s Food

I was lucky enough to be selected by Foodbuzz to participate in the July 24X24 which is a fund raiser for Gulf recovery.  For those not familiar with 24X24 it is a monthly global dinner party featuring 24 meals by 24 bloggers in 24 hours.  This month’s party hasn’t gone unnoticed as the major news wires have picked up on it.  MSNBC said, “Foodbuzz, the largest online food community, is calling on food bloggers across the country to cook up a Gulf Coast-inspired meal on July 24th — and blog about it — all in support of the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF).”  So I gathered a few friends together, most Gulf Coast natives, and we celebrated by eating the foods we’ve all come to love.

This has special importance to me because I live in South Alabama right on the Gulf of Mexico and I have seen first hand the economic devastation in the area.  Just a few months back I took in the annual Blessing of the Fleet in Bayou La Batre and it was evident to the people in that small fishing village that life would never be the same again.  Recently I released a new cookbook, Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico and it is from that work that I draw the recipes for tonight’s menu: filé gumbo, Cuban pressed sandwiches and Key lime tartelettes.

Gumbo is as continuous an argument around these parts as politics, money or religion but I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the one thing that cannot be omitted from gumbo is okra.  The word gumbo is an African for okra.  It is a dish that has been adopted by the people of the Gulf Coast as our official soup.  There are some people who just can’t handle okra so I am stealing an idea from Chef Bobby Flay and using fried okra as a garnish so it remains an official gumbo.

File’ Gumbo

  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 lb shrimp
  • 1 lb crab meat
  • 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 (optional), sliced
  • 1/2 bottle Louisiana Hot Sauce- a whole bottle if you like it HOT!
  • 4 tablespoons flour4 tablespoons butter
  • Salt, cayenne pepper, File’, white pepper, & black pepper to taste
  • Bay leaves
  • 1 quart fish stock or shrimp stock

Boil rice in plain water and set aside. In a large stockpot melt butter and add flour to make a roux cook until chocolate brown, roughly 20 minutes. 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. Add okra (if using) and seafood and simmer about another twenty minutes. Remove bay leaves. Serve hot over rice, and garnish with a sprinkle of file’ and fried okra.

The influence of our Latin American neighbors can be seen all over the Gulf of Mexico, especially in Texas and Florida and it is in the latter that our next course has become an institution.  And no wonder with two kinds of pork.

Cuban Pressed Sandwich

  • 4 loaves French bread
  • 1 stick butter, softened
  • 1 pound smoked ham, sliced thin
  • 1 – 1½ pounds slow roasted pork
  • 1/2 pound Swiss cheese, sliced
  • Hamburger dills
  • Mustard

Finally my dessert also hails from the Sunshine State.  I am including my recipe for Key lime pie although for the dinner I poured my custard into graham cracker tartelettes rather than a single large crust.  Despite the name, Key limes are no longer grown commercially in the Florida Keys, you can thank the hurricane of 1935 for that.  Today most Key limes come from an area of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico that has identical soil and climate to the Keys where this small lime is indigenous thus making it a true Gulf of Mexico delicacy.  You can make this same pie using regular limes but don’t call it a Key lime pie because there is a noticeable difference in flavor.

Key Lime Pie

  • 1¼ cups graham crackers, crushed
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed Key lime juice (roughly 12 limes)
  • Whipped cream
  • Dash of fresh grated nutmeg
  • 3 – 4 Key limes

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In medium bowl, mix together sugar and graham cracker crumbs. Melt the butter and blend well with sugar and graham crackers. Press into a 9-inch pie pan. Bake 6 to 8 minutes. In another medium bowl, combine the milk and egg yolks with an electric mixer on low speed. Add key the lime juice. Mix until thick. Pour into prepared crust and put in refrigerator overnight. Top with whipped cream, nutmeg and garnish with key lime slices (optional).

NOTE: Real Key Lime Pie is never green.

For more information on the “Gulf Ambassador” program visit HERE.  Follow Foodbuzz on Twitter or the Facebook Fan Page.

My Menu for the Foodbuzz Gulf Fund Raiser

As many of you may have read on MSNBC or at the Foodbuzz home page I am participating in this month’s Foodbuzz 24X24 dinner party.  This is a special 24X24 as it is geared to raise money for my beleaguered Gulf Coast.

Destin BeachWith remnants of Katrina still strewn everywhere and oil soiling what are easily the most beautiful beaches in the 48 contiguous, we need a little good news.  The folks at Foodbuzz have come up with just the ticket.  But I’ll let MSNBC tell you all about it:

    SAN FRANCISCO, CA — As the Gulf Coast struggles to recover from the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, Foodbuzz, the largest online food community, is calling on food bloggers across the country to cook up a Gulf Coast-inspired meal on July 24th — and blog about it — all in support of the Greater New Orleans Foundation (GNOF), which has been playing a key role in relief efforts in the wake of the tragic oil spill.

    Each month, Foodbuzz’ 24×24 section of the website showcases blog posts from 24 Foodbuzz Featured Publisher bloggers from around the world about meals they’ve prepared within one 24-hour period. This month, Foodbuzz has chosen 24 bloggers from around the country to serve as “Gulf Ambassadors” and host a Gulf Coast-inspired meal on Saturday, July 24th. A donation of $250 in the name of each of the bloggers will be donated to the GNOF, for an initial contribution of $6000. Some of the participating bloggers from around the country include:

  • Passionate Eater – San Francisco
  • Cooking with Christen – Louisiana
  • Fresh Local and Best – New York City
  • SheSimmers – Chicago
  • Le Grand Fromage – Florida
  • Don’t (White) Sugar Coat It – Boston
  • Four Points Foodie – Austin
  • Wannabe TV Chef – Alabama
  • First, Make a Roux! – San Diego
  • For additional food bloggers — up to 100 — who would like to participate in the program by hosting their own Gulf Coast-inspired meal, Foodbuzz will also donate $25 in their name to the GNOF. Posts can be submitted to Foodbuzz on July 25th at editorial@foodbuzz.com.

    READ THE REST

Here is my menu which features recipes from my cookbook Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes from the Gulf of Mexico:  I’m starting with a rich seafood gumbo chock full of Gulf shrimp, blue crabs and Conecuh smoked sausage.  For my main course I’m knocking out some Cuban pressed sandwiches with lots of roast pork and ham and I’m finishing with Key lime tartelettes.  HERE is the post of the dinner party complete with recipes and plenty of food porn.

Diary of a Wannabe TV Chef – PT 6

This is the latest installment in a continuing series that documents my personal quest to become the host of my own cooking show. Since this is a relatively new “career,” there are no vocational programs or community college courses to prepare me for it. From what I have seen, the two most important elements in securing such a position are passion for food and plain old dumb luck. Born with a passion for food, I set out to make my own luck.

Greener Pastures

WintzellsWintzell’s Oyster House has been in operation in Mobile since 1938. What began as an oyster bar with six stools is now a multi-unit restaurant powerhouse that is unique in character and the standard bearer for what a true Gulf Coast oyster house should be. I escape from the Fern Bar to become a part of this remarkable piece of Mobile history as an associate manager.

Wintzell’s managerial formula is that there are no FOH (Front Of House) managers and no BOH (Back Of House) managers. Rather, all managers work both aspects several times a week. My stint there allows me to work at three of the four stores as well as the commissary which makes a good deal of the gumbo, jerk chicken chili, and other signature Wintzell’s dishes. I also get my first taste of catering.

My employment there also has me working notable events like the Fairhope Arts and Crafts Festival, which transforms the small artist colony of Fairhope, AL into a 200,000 visitor carnival of well-to-do art lovers from across the country. I also spend a week at the original downtown location helping during Mardi Gras. For those who do not know, Mobile, not New Orleans, is the home of American Mardi Gras, having celebrated it for nearly half a century before some engineer decided to erect a city at that peculiar crescent shaped bend in the Mississippi River.

Though the money is great and the experience is good, I have little time left to work towards the ultimate goal of becoming a TV chef. I have not written an article since going into management, over a year in fact. In the summer of 2006, I leave the time-consuming field of restaurant management to become a sous chef for a national chain Italian restaurant.

The chain has a wonderful dedication to quality ingredients and making things from scratch. All in all it is a pleasant experience with one exception, I am dirt poor. On the bright side I do have time to work on my web site and to start writing again. Towards the holidays of 2006, I see an ad that will have a profoundly effect on my quest to become a TV chef.

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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.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

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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