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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!

Review: Rick & Bubba’s Big Honkin’ Book of Grub

When I picked up the package from the Post Office it was easy to tell by the big brown envelope that I had a new cookbook to review. There’s always a certain degree of mystery as I never know exactly what I will be reviewing.  Imagine my surprise (dare I say horror?) when I extracted Rick & Bubba’s Big Honkin’ Book of Grub.  I have nothing against Rick & Bubba, per se, just the notion of the celebrity cookbook.  And not all celebrity cookbooks are bad, just most of them.

The epitomic example of the crappy celebrity cookbook wastes space my bookshelf now.  The deplorable Today’s Kitchen Cookbook “written” by the hosts of NBC’s Today Show.  Matt Lauer (the Carson Daly of daytime TV), Ann Curry, Al Roker and the insufferable Katie Couric have their smiling mugs plastered all over the book.  Each contributed a handful of words and a token recipe or two.  The rest of the book is filled with recipes pirated from the Today Show archives.  Some from other celebs like Vanessa Williams and Sharon Osbrone but most are from chefs who appeared on the show, Alice Waters, Mario Batali, et al.  Great recipes, sure, but why pay the $24.95 suggested retail price when you can get them free from NBC’s web site?

For those who do not know Rick & Bubba they are a couple of good ol boys who do a nationally syndicated radio show from WZZX, their flagship station in Birmingham, Alabama.  The Rick & Bubba Show airs on over 60 stations across the nation and is heard by more than 3 million loyal listeners.  The two turned to proven comedy writer Martha Bolten for help on what they hope will be their fourth New York Times Best Seller.

So with great trepidation I began thumbing through Rick & Bubba’s Big Honkin’ Book of Grub (Thomas Nelson, 2010).  There were not a lot of recipes filling the 200+ pages.  It was filled with actual prose, incites if you will.  And to my surprise most of it was very good.

The two DJ’s share their love affair with food by listing their favorite eateries, favorite meals and a peck of good old country common sense.  Pontificating on such hot button issues as dieting, restaurant etiquette and restructuring the modern grocery store while at the same time railing against the snobbery of so-called polite society.

On the subject of diets they begin by reminding everyone that the first three letters of the word diet spell die.  They propose their own diet plan called The Rick & Bubba “Hey, You Gotta Live” Diet.  The writing style is homespun folksiness that often borders on campy.  But then again they do not litter their names with MS, RD, CN or any of the multitude of acronyms people use to convince you that they know what they are talking about.

They call out Weight Watchers, Sugar Busters, F Factor and the like for the intellectual skullduggery that they are.  They suggest people should, “eat everything . . . only do it in moderation.  You can still go to buffets; just don’t clean them out.” for comic effect adding, “And if you do, don’t start licking the serving carts.”

Humorous statements like, “I haven’t heard my stomach growl in fourteen years.  I do my best to keep it full at all times.  As its primary caregiver, I consider it my duty,” are followed by genuine wisdom, “The goal of our diet isn’t to get you to be skinny.  Our goal is to get you to a level of fat that you can tolerate.”  Also to their credit they completely reject anything vegan saying that meat is, “essential.  Jesus ate meat.  Who are we to tell him he’s wrong?”

What it lacks in haute cuisine “Book of Grub” more than makes for by giving homage to comfort foods.  They pay tribute to the casserole and proclaim the two most underrated foods to be peanut butter and hush puppies.  Their top ten list of the nation’s best restaurants runs the gamut including everything from Dreamland BBQ to the famous Shula’s Steak House.  They even take to task the trend of combining napkin folding with origami.

It shocks me that I actually find myself enjoying this book.  Is Rick & Bubba’s Big Honkin’ Book of Grub the second coming of On Food and Cooking?  Hardly.  But it is a far better tome on gastronomy than the Today’s Kitchen Cookbook.

Today’s Kitchen Cookbook

Belgian Bud

Some Thoughts on the Budweiser Sale

There are really four classifications of beer enthusiasts in this country: Budweiser lovers, Miller Lite lovers, Coors lovers, and beer lovers.

You see people who drink one brand exclusively or only drink other brands because there is no Bud, Lite, or Silver Bullet are not beer lovers they are lovers of their favorite beer.  A beer lover will always want to try something new or different.  Often true beer lovers are looked upon as snobs because they do not enjoy the American Pilsners but the inverse is actually true.  People who only consume a product because of name recognition are snobs -which means the Bud/Miller/Coors-only people are the snobs.

The irony in this situation is that this time the snobs are also the ones who are setteling for second best.  I find original Bud and Miller High Life unpalateble, their light beers are okay as are the Coors products but generally I will look to anything else because I enjoy a real intense flavor from my brew.  These American Pilsners were developed to have little taste on purpose.  There have been countless documentaries about how the German brewers had to waterdown the flavor of their recipes when they got to America so check out one of the many on Food Network or History Channel the next time one is one.

If you drink one of these three American brewers and you want to know if you are a beer lover or a lover of a specific beer then try a Yuengling, Blue Moon, or other crafted beer.  If you still prefer your Bud then hey, you are a Bud Man and there is nothing wrong with that.

So for you true Bud men (and women) out there do not fret about the recent purchase of your favorite beer purveyor by Belgian owned InBev no one on this planet makes better beer than the Belgians.  Besides, Bud Light is the top selling beer in America so I highly doubt that they are going to tamper with the recipe.

I fall under the category of beer lover and currently my favorite brews are Belgian-style Blue Moon (Coors) and the Pecan Nut Brown Ale from Lazy Magnolia Brewing Company in Kiln, MS (Brett Favre’s hometown).

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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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