Snickerdoodle Skillet Cookie

Oh, y’all.  You know I have big heart eyes for a skillet cookie and this one topped with some Bluebell Butter Crunch Ice Cream was just too dang good.  Like sit in your sweat pants in front of the fire and beg someone to get you a second bowl good. 

I’m pretty sure you have everything in your pantry to make this.  Just don’t forget the ice cream!  Report back.  I need reviews. 


  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon


Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Spray a 10” skillet with cooking spray.

Cream the butter and sugars until light and creamy.  Add in egg, egg yolk, and vanilla.

Whisk the dry ingredients together and mix into the butter mixture.  

Spread into skillet.  Mix the topping ingredients together and shake over evenly.  Bake 25 minutes. 

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom, and contributor to Webster Parish, Natchitoches Parish, and Shreveport-Bossier journals, as well as a published cookbook author.

Cake Mix Candy Bar Cookies

This may be THE BEST COOKIE I have ever made.  The boys disagreed because their favorite Original Tolllhouse Chocolate Cookies exist.  And I say it’s a 3-way tie for me with the Kentucky Butter Cookies and the Texas Sheetcake Cookies from The Copper Whisk Cookbook.  Nonetheless these are stellar!

I used Heath toffee bits for these, but the beauty is that you can use whatever candy bar you want to! Think Butterfinger, Snickers, Reese’s, etc.  The small bites of crunch combined with the sweet is just a perfect combination. 

I am writing this and trying not to think about eating 4 more of these before dinner.  They are THAT good.  Let me know when you make them!


  • 1 box yellow cake mix
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cups Heath toffee bits (or whatever candy bar of your choosing)


Combine cake mix, eggs, and oil and mix well with mixer.  Stir in toffee bits by hand.  Chill in refrigerator for 1 hour.  After 1 hour preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Use cookie scoop to drop dough onto baking sheet.  Bake 7-9 minutes.

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom, and contributor to Webster Parish, Natchitoches Parish, and Shreveport-Bossier journals, as well as a published cookbook author.

Mimosa Cupcakes

Bubbly and cupcakes. Bubbly IN cupcakes?! Yes ✔️ please.

Perfect for NYE!


  • 1 box vanilla cake mix
  • 1 cup champagne or Prosecco
  • ½ cup oil
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest


  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 4 cups powdered sugar, divided
  • ¼ cup champagne or Prosecco, room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Gold sanding sugar, for garnish
  • Orange wedges, for garnish


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line 18 muffin tins with cupcake liners.  In a large bowl beat cake mix with champagne, oil, eggs, and orange zest.  Fill cupcake liners ¾ full with batter.  Bake 18 minutes.  Let cool completely before frosting. 

Make frosting:  using an electric mixer beat butter and 2 cups of powdered sugar until fluffy.  Add champagne, vanilla, orange zest, and salt.  Beat until incorporated, then add remaining 2 cups powered sugar and mix until smooth and fluffy.  Frost cooled cupcakes.  Garnish with gold sanding sugar and garnish with orange wedges.

Original recipe from Delish.

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom, and contributor to Webster Parish, Natchitoches Parish, and Shreveport-Bossier journals, as well as a published cookbook author.

Beauty comes in many forms

By Robert St. John

BARBERINO-TAVARNELLE, ITALY— Is it possible that one can fall in love with a town? I love my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi— deeply— and can’t see myself living anywhere else. Ever. But I am a sixth-generation citizen in that part of the world. My roots are deep there. My history is long there. My businesses are there. Most of my family and friends are there. I didn’t fall in love with it. I’ve always loved it. To fall in love with a place one wants to travel to, time and time again, is rare to my thinking.

OK, I get it. People vacation on the beach in the Florida Panhandle, fall in love with it, buy a condo, and return often. The same goes with a mountain home or lake house. But those seem like vacation homes to me. Places to get away, feel free, relax, decompress, and be isolated for a while.

I also understand that people go to places such as Paris and are enchanted by the beauty, history, charm, and romantic nature of those cities. Who wouldn’t? But that is romance. I have been romanced by dozens of cities and places.

I’m talking about a place— especially a non-descript place— that seemingly has no desire to attract outside visitors, one that exists fully unto itself, has no CVB or tourism agency promoting its attributes, and one in which most of the citizens are surprised that others even want to visit. That is rare.

I have found such a place.

A Tuscan local once said, “Tavarnelle is the ugliest town in Tuscany.”

Another local replied, “No. Poggibonsi is the ugliest town in Tuscany. Tavarnelle is the second ugliest.”

Not in my book.

Beauty comes in many forms. There is not a lot about Barberino-Tavarnelle that is architecturally significant, especially on the Tavarnelle side. But I love this place. The longer I am here the more I see the beauty below the surface.

Tavarnelle and Barberino were separate entities until a few years ago when the city governments combined. Barberino has a very small, but charming, walled, Medieval city center, but Tavarnelle is a place that most would pass through and not stop 99 times out of 100. They would do so to their detriment.

Tavarnelle was substantially bombed during World War II. Most of the old buildings are gone and post-1948 buildings have taken their place. But the Via Roma, the ancient road that passes through the middle of town, is the same road Michelangelo travelled when heading to Rome. The road is so old that when Jesus was walking in Jerusalem, people were also walking on the Via Roma.

There is so much history here.

I love the food, especially in the places the locals seem to think are no big deal. They, like us, are guilty of not being able to see the forest for the trees, whether they be olive trees, parasol pines, or cypress. When one is exposed to local establishments every day, one tends to take them for granted. I am only here a few months out of the year. Things always seem new to me. And for the past six years or so I’ve been hosting groups of Americans here and introducing them to this place and its people.

There is a lot to love here.

I love that dogs can— and do—enter restaurants and lie beside their owners as they eat. I love seeing all of the old men playing some type of card game I have never understood in the front room at Paolo’s. They’re the same men who were there in 2011 when I first came to this area.

Paolo’s place seems to be the center of town. It’s the Italian embodiment of what I have preached for decades— it’s the local cafes and bars that tell us the most about a town. It’s where the town gathers to share a meal and share their lives. This is not EPCOT Italy. This is the real thing.

I love the ladies who work in the bakery I visit every morning. I am obviously fond of the pastries they serve, but I also appreciate their enthusiastic energy and the welcoming way they greet me when I walk through the door every day. Italian bakeries have such good energy in the morning. Most people don’t even sit. It’s typically a five-minute visit for a quick espresso and a hand-held pastry.

The green-grocer on the town square and I still can’t verbally communicate after a decade of doing business together (that’s on me). But we still engage in trade somehow, and he hand picks the best fruits and vegetables around. I love that.

I love that the olive oil on the tables of most restaurants comes from olive trees within a half mile of the restaurant (many times on site), and the wine and cheese typically come from farms and vineyards just a few miles away. These people invented “local.”

I constantly see this town through new eyes. We can only have one “first time.” The first time I saw Michelangelo’s David I was emotionally moved. But that was my one “first time.” It’s not that I can’t appreciate— and be awed by— that amazing work of art on subsequent visits, but there’s only one first time. By hosting people over here and turning them on to all the locals-only restaurants and locations I’ve discovered I get to live through their “first time.”

Processes and traditions that seemed strange, outdated, and complicated in my early visits to Barberino-Tavarnelle make sense now, and I navigate the system fairly well. My first grocery store visit back in 2011 was a nightmare at every turn. I didn’t know I was supposed to put on gloves before handling the produce (at the green-grocer, no one touches the fruit or vegetable but the store employees), and I didn’t know I was supposed to weigh and price-label the produce before bringing it to the check-out line. That first visit was on a busy Saturday night as everyone was stocking up because the store was closed the following day. I was truly a stranger in a strange land. These days I shop like a pro.

I don’t feel strange any longer. People know me here. People seem to like me, my family, and our guests. One of the proudest moments I’ve experienced as a tour host is after one of my groups left several weeks ago. We received a lot of compliments from restaurateurs, hotels, and guides about how kind, friendly, fun, and respectful the Americans were, and what a joy it was to have them.

I still speak little to no Italian. What little Italian I do speak is rarely ever pronounced correctly, as I mangle every other word. That’s not a good thing, and I should probably make more of an effort to learn the language. But I have a hard time remembering what I said five minutes ago, I feel like 61 may be too late to learn. I’m afraid that, until I am over here and forced to communicate to survive, I am not going to be able to learn Italian, easily. I can speak menu Italian, but I have so many locals surrounding me daily who speak English that I am spoiled and probably just downright lazy about it if I am to be honest.

I will never leave my home in Hattiesburg, but I’ll keep working over here several months a year as long as Americans want to come over and visit my favorite little Tuscan town, meet my favorite people, eat and drink the wonderful things this land— and those hands— provide, and fall in love, too.


Annagloria’s Gorganzola Grapes

My friend Annagloria served these as a first course at a dinner party in her house one evening. I thought they were perfect.

40-50 each Red grapes
½ lb. Gorgonzola dolce
½ lb.  Cream cheese, softened
½ lb. Toasted pistachios

Wash the grapes and dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Set aside.

Combine the gorgonzola and cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on high speed until completely homogenous, scraping down the sides as needed.

Grind the pistachios in a food processor, transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Coat the dry grapes completely in the cheese mixture and then roll in the crushed pistachios to coat evenly. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours in an airtight container before serving.

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author

Zombie Cookies

I was NOT expecting these to turn out, but I was so excited they did! Despite what Pinterest tells you, a few drops of red, blue and green food coloring will NOT make black dough. Instead you need 2 full bottles of each and stir until you feel like you surely have John Cena biceps and have food coloring stained hands and counters for 3 days. (Or be a smart cookie and order some black food coloring on Amazon).

Moving on.

I used my Mamaw’s Cake Mix Cookie recipe for this!  (I started with yellow here).  Also, it’s best to put the eyes on the cookies as soon as they come out of the oven. Enjoy! 🕷


  • Cake mix or your choice
  • 1/2 cup oil
  • 2 eggs


Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Mix the three ingredients.  Scoop onto cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes.   

To make these like I did here add black food coloring (or a combination of two full bottles of red, green, and blue food coloring).  Add candy eyeballs as soon as the cookies come out of the oven.

This is my Mamaw James’ recipe.  I love the versatility of this recipe since you can choose whichever cake mix suits your fancy.  Too easy and always so yummy!

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom, and contributor to Webster Parish, Natchitoches Parish, and Shreveport-Bossier journals, as well as a published cookbook author.

Another Blessing

Enzo Corti

By Robert St. John

This morning I read a Business News Daily article that listed the most stressful jobs in America. Enlisted military personnel came first, firefighter, second, and airline pilot, third. Police officer landed in fourth place. I wouldn’t argue with any of those rankings.

Broadcaster came in fifth. I’m not sure I agree with that. Before I got into the restaurant business, I spent four years as a radio station disc jockey. I can tell you that, other than the first couple of shifts— when I was so nervous, I was physically shaking— it was one of the easiest jobs I’ve ever had. With apologies to all my friends in the media, I’m not sure broadcaster even belongs in the top 50 of most stressful jobs (with the definite exception of war correspondents in the field). Newspaper reporters came in seventh. I don’t agree with that one either. Public relations executives also made the top ten. Sorry but I must argue again. I am sure they were thinking of crisis management in a PR sense, but that is situational. Taxi driver came in at number 10. Last week I was in several taxis in New York. Those guys didn’t seem worried about anything.

There was no mention of restaurateur. It just goes to show you that, Simone Johnson, the author of the article for Business News Daily, has no clue as to what is involved in the opening a restaurant, or its daily operations.

Event coordinator did come in at number six. I get it. I’ve done a lot of catering over the last 40 years, and in addition to the hundreds of little things that can go wrong during a major catering event (we almost blew up the garage of a wedding reception once— another story for another day), you are typically dealing with people at their most anxious. Most people don’t entertain very often so it’s a stressful thing. In turn it becomes a stressful thing for the event coordinator. So, for the purposes of this column, I will assume that event coordinator also includes restaurateur, which puts those of us crazy enough to be passionate about this profession as the sixth most stressful job.

I’m in the middle of my 24th restaurant opening in the past 40 years. I believe it’s truly one of the most stressful things anyone could ever do (or at least sixth most stressful). I imagine from an outsider’s perspective one would look at opening a restaurant as, “why not just teach the cooks the recipes, tell the front-of-the-house staff how you want them to serve the tables, and just let guests file in.” How awesome it would be if it were that simple.

The opening of a new restaurant is demanding, taxing, tiring, fraught with potential disaster around every corner, and I love every minute of it. There are so many moving parts and so many opportunities to drop the ball. Though the older I get— and the longer I stay in this business— I see those as opportunities to win guests over. Mistakes are going to happen, and especially during the honeymoon period in the early stages of a restaurant. It’s not about the mistakes, it’s about how the mistakes are handled. If four decades in the restaurant business has taught me anything, it’s that a bad guest experience, handled properly at the table, can turn into a situation that wins a customer over, and sometimes more so than if they just enjoyed a flawless meal. It’s not about the mistake. It’s about how the mistake is handled.

This most recent opening was a unique one. We took over an existing restaurant in Ridgeland, Mississippi that had been in business for 12 years. They shut the doors one day, and we took over the entire restaurant the next day. Two weeks later— after a major deep-clean, some redecorating, re-concepting, service training, and recipe and menu development— we reopened with a new concept.

Our primary goal, from day one, was to retain all the current team members. We paid them through the entire two-week shutdown, and I am proud to say that we were able to keep every member of the team employed. That made this opening a little easier than most, but when you get down to it, everything is new because we brought in new recipes, new menu items, new cocktails, new systems of service, new point of sales systems, and new culture. Ultimately, it’s a new deal.

The restaurant is named after my friend, Enzo Corti, who lives in the small town of Barberino-Tavarnelle in the heart of the Chianti region of Tuscany. Enzo is a fourth-generation wine and olive oil merchant who embodies everything I love about Italian food and culture. We have patterned our restaurant— and its approach— after his zest for living, exuberant charm, and infectious personality.

The food at Enzo is part American-Italian and part authentic Italian. I decided to pare down the inaugural menu due to all the restaurant-opening reasons I stated above. We’ll start off with limited offerings and work our way into a more extensive menu. The main items we will be adding in the coming weeks will be more authentic Italian dishes. Many of those dishes are ones I learned during my travels to Italy. Some came from my son who worked as a chef over there, and others I learned from restaurateurs across the country, but mostly in Tuscany.

I am tired. At 60, I don’t quite have the stamina I did when I was in my 20s. But that’s not going to stop me. I do, however, believe I work smarter these days. I don’t know how many more restaurant openings I have in me, but we have a few more concepts in the works and even more on the drawing board. We want to keep creating opportunities for our team members to advance and move up.

In the end, I consider myself fortunate to have found a career that is also my hobby. It’s not work to me, it’s just what I love to do. I am weary, but more importantly, I am grateful, and I am blessed.


Porcini Mushroom Soup

3 quarts Mushroom stock, heated
8 TB Unsalted butter, divided
¼ cup All-purpose flour
¼ lb. Dry porcini mushrooms (soaked and reserved from the mushroom stock recipe)
½ cup Shallots, minced
2 TB Brandy
2 TB Kosher salt, divided
½ TB Ground white pepper
1 TB Fresh thyme, chopped
2 TB Sherry vinegar

In a one gallon stock pot, melt 4 TB of the butter over medium heat. Once melted, add the flour and whisk constantly to combine thoroughly and prevent scorching, about 2 minutes. Slowly add the heated mushroom stock 1 cup at a time, combining thoroughly each time until all the stock has been added. Continue to heat this on medium-low, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to 2 quarts.

Meanwhile, melt the remaining 4 TB of butter over medium heat. Add the shallot and stir until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms, 1 TB salt, white pepper and thyme and continue cooking for 6 minutes. Deglaze with the brandy and continue stirring until brandy has cooked out completely, about 3-4 minutes.

Transfer this mixture to a food processor and pulse for 1-2 minutes. Return to the pot with the reduced stock and bring to a simmer for 10 minutes. Puree this mixture until smooth with a stick blender or in the food processor. Finish with remaining 1 TB salt and the sherry vinegar.

Yield: 1 gallon

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author.

Nutella Browned Butter Blondies

This flavor style is much more my fall vibe.  Give me something with browned butter, and it’s hard for me to not say OH YES.  Swirl that batter with some warm Nutella and you’ve really got something special.


  • 3/4 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup Nutella


Make the brown butter:  In a small heavy bottomed sauce pan over medium heat melt the butter.  Stir continuously.  Cook for 5-10 minutes or until the butter is foamy and turns medium golden brown. (This actually took me longer than 10 minutes, but I kept the heat very low.  When the butter browns it will separate and become foamy).  Keep a close eye on the butter as it will burn easily.  Remove from heat and transfer to a medium bowl and let it cool to room temperature.  

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease 8×8 pan.  When the butter is room temperature mix the butter, sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed until combined.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Whip until light and fluffy.  

Mix in flour and salt just until the flour disappears.  Do not over mix.  Spread mixture into 8×8 pan.  Top with dollops of Nutella and swirl with a butter knife or toothpick.  Bake 25 minutes.  

Cool before slicing.

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom, and contributor to Webster Parish, Natchitoches Parish, and Shreveport-Bossier journals, as well as a published cookbook author.

In Search of Voice

By Robert St. John

For the majority of the 23 years I have written this weekly column, the primary focus has been on food and restaurants. In 2011, a dozen years into my writing career, I spent six months overseas with my wife and two kids and the column morphed into a semi-travel column, at least during the times I am away from home base.

I was 40 years old when my writing career started. The local newspaper called one day and asked if I would contribute a weekly column. I said, “no” initially as I was too busy, and probably too scared to put myself out there. In those days it was a labor for me to write a letter to someone. I was 20 years into my restaurant career and had tunnel vision while trying to keep all the concepts afloat. Though newspaper editors kept pressing and I eventually relented.

The early writing was poor. Embarrassingly so. Occasionally I go back and read some of the early stuff and cringe. I was 40 years old but writing with a 15-year-old’s skill set. It makes sense because that was my age when I stopped trying to write anything of substance. My early columns read like a 9th grader’s forced composition paper.

In those days I wasn’t even using my own voice. An early review stated, “St. John is a cross between Emeril Lagasse and Lewis Grizzard.” I was a fan of both of those guys, and probably tried to live up to that billing even though it wasn’t who I was, on any level.

There was a lot of humor— or attempted humor— in the early days. When I read back on the pieces from the first five years, and in the early books, I wince because it’s not even me who’s writing. I can remember reading an early piece my friend John T. Edge wrote about Waffle House. I was inspired by it and tried to write my own piece about Waffle House. I would imagine if I went back and read both pieces back-to-back, mine would have been more than merely inspired by his. I didn’t know any better. I never took any journalism classes or spent any time trying to write creatively.

After a few years, the writing improved, and other newspapers began to contact me asking if they could carry the column. Once that happened, even more newspapers called. At the height of the newspaper business— sometime around the early 2000s— I was in 32 newspapers from Louisiana to Florida, every week. The books grew out of the newspaper column, but it wasn’t until that six-month trip to Europe that I started writing in my own voice.

There is something about being with your wife, 14-year-old daughter, and 10-year-old son traversing through 72 cities in 17 countries on two continents that makes life more efficient and to the point. That is what happened to my writing as well. The prose grew more honest and proficient. Instead of trying to make people laugh, I just spoke the truth— my truth— about what was going on in, and around, my life at the time. It’s what I still do today.

I found my voice and have been writing in that voice— such as it is— ever since. My vocabulary is fairly limited, and my writing is not flowery, but conversational and to the point. I never set out to be a writer, though the column has provided me with the experience I desperately needed to communicate through the written word. Over the past 22 years I have written over 1,000 words a week, every week, never missing a week. With over 1.1 million words in print, I’m starting to get the hang of it.

It’s why I told my two children to take all the English, composition, and creative writing classes they could during college. It is my philosophy that, no matter what the profession, one needs to be able to communicate through the written word. When I read things my children have written I am impressed. They, in their early 20s, are much better writers than I was in my early 40s.

When I look back at my early education there were two teachers who had the biggest impact on my life. My 4th grade teacher Mrs. Nell Smith recognized that I was severely ADHD. I was diagnosed as “hyperactive” as they didn’t have a proper term for this condition back then. Mrs. Smith was able to channel my creative energy by allowing me to skip our daily lesson plans. Instead, she encouraged me to write plays and cast my fellow students as actors in the plays. Whatever subjects I missed that year— whether math or science— pale in comparison to the out-of-the-box thinking that wonderful woman blessed me with in 1969. At 60, I still benefit today.

The other great influence in those early years was a lady named Bettye Boyd. She was my high school English teacher and still one of the finest teachers I’ve ever known. I write today knowing that Mrs. Boyd may have her red pencil out correcting my grammar, punctuation, and structure. She surely has better things to do, but I’m a better writer knowing that she may be reading.

The advice I give to kids when I’m speaking at a school or to a group is, “Always be open to opportunity. One never knows what the future holds.” In high school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. As soon as I started working in restaurants, I knew. Though I just assumed I would be a restaurateur. My goal was to own one restaurant so I could wear T-shirts and shorts to work every day. Then the writing started, and this column began. Twelve books followed and then TV and all the other ancillary projects with which I am involved.

The beauty of my situation today is that I am blessed to have 100% creative control in everything I do. It’s something that I never take for granted. Whether it’s books, television, or restaurant development there’s no one looking over my shoulder dictating what must be done. It’s not that writers don’t need editors, and businessmen don’t need financial advisors, but to unleash the full creative beast that lives within, one needs a substantial amount of freedom. I’m blessed for many reasons, but that’s the one I am most grateful for today.


Grilled and Chilled Asparagus with Dill Mayonnaise

For the asparagus

2 lbs Asparagus, fresh
3 Tbl Olive oil
2 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground

Toss the asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the asparagus on a medium-heat grill and cook for 5-7 minutes. Turn the asparagus often to prevent burning.

Remove from the grill and cool.

Note: Asparagus can be baked in an oven set to “broil.” Place on a cookie sheet, roll in olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and broil for five minutes or until al dente.

Dill Mayonnaise

2 Egg Yolks
1 tsp Salt
1 /2 tsp Dijon Mustard
1 1 /2 tsp Lemon Juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp White Vinegar
1 cup Canola Oil
1/4 cup Fresh Dill, chopped

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, salt, and mustard. When mixture becomes light in color, add lemon juice. Blend.

Drizzle oil slowly into the yolk mixture, whisking constantly. After adding half of the oil, stir in vinegar. Continue whisking and add remaining oil. Add fresh dill.

The mayonnaise may be held refrigerated for one week.

To serve, arrange the chilled asparagus on a serving platter. Serve the mayonnaise on the side for dipping.


6-8 servings

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and published cookbook author.

Carnitas Taco Soup here for your Taco Tuesday inspiration

When I make Crock Pot Carnitas (pork roast, a chopped onion, and Pampered Chef Carnitas Seasoning), I always have leftovers.  We usually make nachos or tacos one night and sandwiches the next.  I wanted something different, and this recipe was exactly it.

This is no different from a typical taco soup, but you’re using excellently seasoned meat and adding all the regular taco soup goodness to it.  Stick it in your slow cooker and let it come together all day on low.


1 pound cooked pulled pork (I use leftovers from Crock Pot Carnitas)
1 can pinto beans with jalapenos, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 can Rotel, undrained
1 package Ranch dressing mix
1 package taco seasoning
1 cup frozen corn
5 cups chicken broth
Toppings:  sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, cilantro, jalapeños


Heat all on the stove on low or in a crock pot.  Garnish with desired toppings.


Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom, and contributor to Webster Parish, Natchitoches Parish, and Shreveport-Bossier journals, as well as a published cookbook author.

The best job, ever

Robert St. John and his daughter Holleman

By Robert St. John

If I carried a business card, there would be a lot of job titles listed on it— restaurateur, author, producer, columnist, writer, cook, designer, documentarian, show host, travel host, board member, manager, president, CEO, founder, and chairman of the board. But the most important job title I have— or ever will have, and it’s not even close— is “Dad.” Actually, “Dad,” if my son is addressing me, “Daddy,” if it’s my daughter.

Most of those job titles are positions and responsibilities I sought— some I dreamed of as a young man, and others I never expected. I’m embarrassed to say “dad” was never something I thought about.

Though I always wanted to be a father, even as a teenager, I’m not sure why. It probably had something to do with losing my father at an early age. I could probably go sit on a doctor’s couch for an hour a week for a couple of years and figure that out. But to what end? The point is I wanted to be a father but— had you asked me in the mid 1980s when I was in full-restaurant mode— being a father would have been way down on the list behind restaurateur, chef, and/or business owner.

When I met my wife in the summer of 1988 neither of us wanted to get married. She claimed early, and often, that she never wanted to have children. It’s so strange to type that sentence today as she is 100 percent totally devoted to our kids and is the absolute best mother I know. I, on the other hand, wanted a whole litter of kids. I would have had a dozen if it were up to me. But I was super focused on my career and building up the restaurant.

Then my daughter was born, and everything changed in that moment.

I can honestly say that my entire life’s focus, mission, and purpose was transformed in the maternity ward of the Forrest General Hospital at 8:10 a.m. on May 31, 1997.

I knew I would be excited about having a child. I knew I would love and adore a child. But when they put that crying a little girl in my arms it’s as if a box, heretofore hidden inside me for 36 years, opened instantly, and my capacity to love another being amplified exponentially. The degree with which I thought I would love my child paled in comparison to the feeling I had in that moment. It’s the same deep feeling I have today, if not more so.

My son was born four years later to the same sentiment. We stopped at one each. My friend Tracy says, “With two you can play man-to-man. With three you gotta play zone. And zone is never as good as man-to-man.”

I have loved and enjoyed every phase of their childhoods. Even the early crying-at-night stages. My wife did almost all the late-night rocking, but when it was my turn, I can remember telling myself, “There will be a day when you will miss this and wish you were holding this little infant in your arms. Treasure it.” Those days came, and they came too fast.

Through elementary, junior high, high school, football, soccer, theatre performances, cheerleading, and long trips when no one would be quiet in the back seat, I would do it all over again, tenfold. There’s almost nothing I would skip.

Though of all those phases— even the 10-year-old phase when I was seen as the greatest thing alive in my son’s eyes— I’m not sure I would trade any of it for where we are today. My 25-year-old daughter just moved back from New Orleans where she was working as an interior designer. She has a house in town and is working with another interior designer. She loves her job. My 21-year-old son has just finished a six-month stint in Florence, Italy, cooking in the kitchen of a friend. In another week he will head to culinary school in New York to become a chef.

I never pushed my career on them. The restaurant industry is brutal enough, and if one isn’t totally in love and obsessed with it, he or she will be miserable. My son came to me six years ago and stated his intention to go into the restaurant business. I laid out an eight-year plan for him to follow. He is currently almost halfway through that plan. My daughter never expressed interest in the restaurant business. They both worked for me in their high school years, but we always knew she would be an interior designer. And she is a very good at what she does.

Maybe that’s what makes yesterday so special. I spent two hours in the kitchen of our Italian restaurant with our lead prep cook and kitchen manager at Tabella in Hattiesburg, Joseph Heidelberg, the new executive chef at Enzo in Richland, Justin Ferguson, my business partner, Jarred Patterson, and my son. We were developing recipes for the new Italian restaurant we will open in a matter of weeks. The menu will include American-Italian food such as the food we have been serving at Tabella for the last 11 years, but it will also offer authentic Italian food that I have learned from my yearly trips to Italy, and my son is leading the effort on those dishes as he learned many of them during his most recent stint.

After a full day in the kitchen, I picked my daughter up at her house and we drove to Ridgeland, Mississippi, to the new restaurant so she could start moving forward on the design plan. It was just the two of us, which is kind of rare, as she spends most of her family time with her mother or as part of the whole (the four of us). I loved it. The conversation never lulled. We spoke about my vision for the restaurants, and other restaurants that are in the works. She sat in the passenger seat and thumbed through the plans as we discussed colors, coverings, and artwork.

At the restaurant, we walked around and measured and did all the things that an interior designer needs to do to get her job done. Then we had dinner. I have traveled to a lot of places this year. I even spent three months eating my way through Spain and Italy. But no dinner can compare to this one where she and I just sat and talked shop while we ate.

On the ride home, we stopped talking about business and focused on music. I played DJ for a while, and then she took over the car’s sound system. We talked about the music we were listening to these days and shared new songs the other hadn’t heard yet. It was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Thirty-five years ago, when I got in this business, I was at a point in my life where I had no intentions or prospects of marriage. I just wanted to own a restaurant. Just one. That was my dream. Kids were nowhere in my top-20 life goals. Today, my family is at the top of the pyramid. I guess we must be open to new experiences, and always be available for what God has in store. Today I am a happy man. I am in the business I love so much and working with the two human beings on this planet I love the most. My wife understands that last statement, by the way.



2 cups Polenta

6 cups Chicken stock

1 TB Kosher salt

1 tsp Fresh ground black pepper

In a 2-quart sauce pot, bring the chicken stock to a boil. Add the polenta or cornmeal and reduce to medium-low heat and stir constantly until it begins to thicken, about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and published cookbook author.

Enter Enzo

By Robert St. John

Forty years ago, I worked my first shift in a restaurant. It was almost the first hour, of the first shift of the first day that I discovered what I wanted to do with the rest of my life— open a restaurant. That is not an exaggeration or oversimplification. The restaurant bug hit me instantly. Within a matter of days my life goal was set.

At 20 years old I had just flunked out of college and had returned to my hometown of Hattiesburg, tail tucked between my legs, and embarrassed because most of my friends were exceling in college and getting closer to their future goals. At that time, I had no goals. I had worked as a disc jockey at a radio station all through high school. When my college advisor asked what I wanted to major in I unenthusiastically and hesitantly replied, “communications?” At 17-years-old, it was all I knew. That was my skillset. That, and how to play football, mow yards, and drink beer.

Flunking out of college ended up being a blessing because it drove me into the restaurant business. From that day forward I set my sights on one goal— opening my own restaurant.

It took six years, but I eventually did it. I went back to college and worked full time in two restaurants while taking 18 and 21 hours a semester, and full loads in summer school. I was all-consumed with the restaurant business and spent my spare time between classes in the library reading the restaurant trade magazines trying to absorb everything I could from the industry. After dinner shifts as a server, I stayed up many nights until 3:00 a.m. designing potential future kitchens and menus and complete concepts, even. I couldn’t get enough.

I was 26 years old when I opened the first restaurant. That’s all I really wanted. Just one. My life’s goal was to own my own restaurant so I could wear T-shirts and shorts to work every day. I didn’t want much out of life. Though I can tell you sitting here at 60, I still wear shorts and/or T-shirts to work almost every day. Goal achieved.

The restaurant business brings with it many subsets, genres, and talent skills. Early on I was a working chef in the kitchen. Again, one of the seemingly worst things that ever happened was that my business partner and I fired our chef opening night. It, too, was a blessing. It forced me to get back into the kitchen. I spent the next four years working 90 hours a week learning how to cook and run a professional kitchen. I paid myself $250.00 a week, but the dirty secret is that— if I would have had any money— I would have paid someone to let me do it. I look back at those times as my halcyon days in this business. I didn’t need much, just that restaurant. I had a blast. I lived in a one-room garage apartment behind my grandmother’s house until I was 30 years old. It was all about the restaurant.

After four years, I started working my way out of the kitchen and into overall management of the company. We had opened a couple of more restaurants at that point and— even though I still consider myself a pretty good cook— I’m not formally trained and almost anyone on the line at any of our restaurants can cook circles around me. My talents lie in food development, décor, concept design, imaging, branding, and marketing. And that’s pretty much what I do today.

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what I am doing today because my business partner, Jarred Patterson, COO of New South Restaurant Group, and I are in the process of opening an Italian restaurant in Ridgeland, Miss. It’s a very interesting and unique deal for me as in four decades and over two dozen restaurants opened, I have never encountered a situation such as this. We are taking over a restaurant— Biaggi’s— currently in operation, tables, chairs, cooking equipment, glasses, forks, and silverware all intact, even the employees and the management are in place. Our job is to oversee the complete and total overhaul of the menu, food development, service standards, and design of our “new” restaurant.

From the second I touched down in Tuscany in 2011 I knew I wanted to open an Italian restaurant in the Jackson, Miss., area. I had opened an Italian restaurant in Hattiesburg before I ever set foot on Italian soil. Six months later I was covering the Italian countryside from the southernmost tip of Sicily to the Dolomites. It was during that period that I started thinking about what to do in the Jackson area.

These days I spend approximately three months a year working in Italy, touring people through different parts of that country and turning them on to authentic Italian food in locals-only, out-of-the-way places that tourists typically never visit.

Our new restaurant, Enzo, will be named after my good friend in Tuscany, Enzo Corti, who bottles olive oil and wine and owns the villas in which we stay. Enzo Osteria (pronounced Oh-stir-ee-uh, basically a casual Italian tavern) will feature the American-Italian food we are used to over here. But half of the menu will be filled with many of the authentic Italian dishes I’ve learned over the last 11 years in Italian restaurant kitchens and Tuscan home kitchens throughout the country. There are some physical changes we will make to the building— mainly creating a stand-alone bar and cocktail lounge separate from the dining room— after we take possession of the building on September 7th.

We are blessed to have an already staffed restaurant. This will be my third restaurant to open in the post-COVID period. The first two were such challenges that we are still trying to hire enough personnel to cover basic shifts. At Enzo the staff is in place. We just need to train them to our service standards and teach the kitchen crew our recipes.

The location is perfect. When the Renaissance center was being developed, I was approached to open a Crescent City Grill and Mahogany Bar on the exact spot Enzo will be located. A company was formed, the plans were drawn up, and then the 2008 financial crisis hit. My partner was still ready to go ahead with the project. But I wanted my entree into the Jackson area to be the best it could be. So, I decided to wait.

We opened the Fondren project back in February and Enzo will open around the first of October.

I am knee deep into what I do best— concept design, décor, menu development, imaging, and branding. I love this business. I love that I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I can focus on the things that I do best.

A bonus is that my daughter— an interior designer— is working alongside me on the changeover. My son, who spent the first six months of this year cooking in Italy, is bringing many of the recipes he learned over there before he heads off to the Culinary Institute of America, where he will study to become a chef. He will eventually come back into the fold, but he leaves us with a great legacy of authentic Italian recipes that I will add to the ones I have learned over the years. Working with my children in the business that I love so dearly is a singular and unique joy to me, and one I never expected.

Here we go!

Roasted Tomato Soup

Perfect on a cold day with a soft-cheese Panini.

10 lbs. Roma tomatoes
¼ c.   Bacon fat
3 c.    Onion, diced
¼ c.   Minced garlic
1 TB Dried basil
1 TB Dried oregano

1 TB Kosher salt
2 tsp  Fresh ground black pepper
1 ea   6 oz. can tomato paste
4 c.    Chicken stock
1 ea.  Bay leaf    
1 c.    Heavy cream
1 TB Sherry vinegar

Preheat oven to 400.

Lightly coat the tomatoes with vegetable oil and place on a baking sheet in the oven for 30-45 minutes, turning them every 10 minutes. Remove from oven when the skin begins to crack and the tomatoes are soft.  Allow to cool just enough to handle and remove and discard the skins.

In a stockpot, sauté onions in the bacon fat for 8-10 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.  Add garlic, basil, oregano, salt and pepper and continue stirring for another 4-5 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir constantly for 5-6 minutes until caramelized, being careful not to burn.

Add Chicken stock, roasted tomatoes and bay leaf and bring to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf and add cream and sherry vinegar and simmer for 10 more minutes.

Puree until smooth using an immersion blender or in small batches in a countertop blender.

Yield: 1 gallon

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author

Bacon Cheese Snacks

  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • Small can chopped ripe olives (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped onions (can used dried)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • Bacon Bits
  • Rye rounds (found in bakery section at grocery)

Mix the cheese, olives, onions and mayonnaise together.  Spread on rye rounds.  Sprinkle with bacon bits.  Bake at 300 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

These make the most wonderful little party toasts.  Mix the spread in advance to make prep easier.  We love these during football season.  There are never any leftovers.  

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom, and contributor to Webster Parish, Natchitoches Parish, and Shreveport-Bossier journals, as well as a published cookbook author.

RSJ’s New Orleans restaurant recommendations 2022

By Robert St. John

NEW ORLEANS— This city is, unquestionably, one of the top five restaurant cities in America. I would imagine that if one were to poll national food critics New Orleans would be listed among the top three. To my taste— and I’ve eaten extensively in most of America’s top restaurant cities— New Orleans is number one. Period. No question. End of discussion.

As a citizen, I consider myself fortunate to have grown up 90 minutes away from this culinary mecca. As a restaurateur, I consider myself blessed to have spent over six decades eating my way through New Orleans. Granted, the Crescent City is a second home for me, but I still log in over 120 New Orleans restaurant meals each year.

For the past couple of decades, I have kept a running journal of my restaurant visits in New Orleans. I also keep a to-do list of new restaurants that I have yet to visit, and a separate list of restaurants that I plan to re-visit. I also field a lot of requests for restaurant recommendations in New Orleans. There are a few dozen restaurants that aren’t on any to-do or re-visit list because they are places that I frequent on a regular basis. The following is that list.

Author’s Note: Everyone has an opinion on restaurants, and all restaurant opinions are 100 percent subjective. You have yours. These are mine:

MY FAVORITE BREAKFAST SPOT: LA BOULANGERIE, 4600 Magazine St— Most mornings I drive from the Marigny to Uptown Magazine just west of Napoleon, because the croissants are worth the drive. I have been doing a deep dive into bakeries for the past year as we prepare to open one in Hattiesburg. I have yet to find one that tops La Boulangerie.

Other Breakfast Joints I Frequent: Toast, 5433 Laurel Street— I bounce between the Uptown location and the one near the fairgrounds. Toast is 100% local New Orleans in the morning.

MY FAVORITE BRUNCH SPOT: PALADAR 511, 511 Marigny Street— This is the place I eat brunch most often, and not just because it’s in our building. The huevos rancheros and the lemon-ricotta blueberry pancakes are stellar. I can never choose between the two, so I always order both. The new dinner menu is excellent, too.

Other Brunches I Frequent: Justine, 2440 Chartres St.— Justin Devillier’s French Quarter spot, and its sister restaurant to La Petit Grocery, are fun, lively, and all the offerings are excellent.

Brennan’s, 417 Royal Street— Of the four old-line French Quarter institutions, Galitoire’s, Arnaud’s, Antoine’s, and Brennan’s, I eat at the latter most often. Ralph Brennan did the city a huge favor when he took over the reins several years back.

Gris Gris, 1800 Magazine Street— Eric Cook is a hard-working, dedicated chef who has excellent touch when it comes to food and a keen eye to know what his guests want. The brunch is great, but so are lunch and dinner. Great Sunday/Monday spots. The newly opened Saint John in the French Quarter is hitting on all cylinders as well.

MY FAVORITE DINNER SPOT: BRIGTSEN’S, 723 Dante St— This restaurant and this chef have been at the top of my list for over three decades. Frank Brigtsen is the heir apparent to his longtime mentor, Paul Prudhomme. The Butternut Shrimp Bisque is one of the best soups I have ever tasted (second only to Paul Bocuse’s mushroom soup in Lyon). The seafood platter is off the menu these days, but components of it — such as Warren LeRuth’s baked oyster recipe — still remain. I could seriously make a meal of just the crawfish cornbread, alone. Long live Frank Brigtsen.

Other dinner spots I frequent:

La Petit Grocery, 4238 Magazine St— The birthplace of the Blue Crab Beignet

Coquette, 2800 Magazine St— Solid offerings from a team with excellent “touch” who always seem to be working together as a team.

Lilette, 3637 Magazine St— Also a perfect spot for lunch.

Bywater American Bistro, 2900 Chartres St— Nina Compton runs my wife’s favorite New Orleans restaurant.

August, 301 Tchoupitoulas Street— Probably still my favorite fine-dining spot in the city after all of these years.

MY FAVORITE STEAKHOUSE: DORIS METROPOLITAN, 620 Chartres St— Their aged prime beef is excellent. My son loves this place.

Other steakhouses I frequent: Mr. John’s Steakhouse 2111 St. Charles Avenue— It always feels very “Uptown New Orleans” in that room, and the steaks are great, too.

MY FAVORITE PO-BOY SHOP: DOMILISE’S, 5240 Annunciation Street— My go-to for po-boys for over 30 years.

Other po-boy shops I frequent:

Parkway Bakery and Tavern 538 Hagan Avenue— There’s always a line so schedule accordingly.

R&O Restaurant and Catering, 216 Metairie-Hammond Highway— A great roast beef po-boy, and excellent fried seafood.

If there’s not a line out of the door at the Acme in the Quarter, dash in, be seated, order the best roast beef po-boy intown, and a dozen on the half shell with the hottest horseradish known to man. Excellent.

MY FAVORITE SANDWICH: THE SAM AT STEIN’S DELI, 2207 Magazine St— In years past I have driven from Hattiesburg, ordered this sandwich, eaten it, and driven home.

Other awesome and original sandwiches:
Turkey & the Wolf, 739 Jackson Avenue— A few years ago Mason Herford turned the sandwich world upside down, in the most beautiful and hilarious way. The Collard Green Melt and Fried Bologna Sandwiches are, on one hand, everyman’s food, and on the other hand, brilliantly inspired.

MY FAVORITE APPETIZER: OYSTER BLT, GRIS GRIS, 1800 Magazine Street— Perfection on a plate. Smoked pork belly, tomato jam, crispy fried oysters, and sugarcane vinegar with a touch of heat.

Other Favorite Appetizers:
Shrimp and Tasso Henican, Commander’s Palace, 1403 Washington Avenue

MY FAVORITE BLOCK FOR FOOD: (*the three-fer)

The Italian Barrel, 1240 Decatur St— Solid Italian (my favorite in the city).

Dian Xin, 1218 Decatur St— Solid Chinese (my favorite in the city).

El Gato Negro, 81 French Market Place— Solid Mexican (my favorite in the city).

MY FAVORITE PIZZA: PIZZA DELICIOUS, 617 Piety Street— Excellent pies.

MY FAVORITE BURGER: COMPANY BURGER, 4600 Freret Street— Everything I want in a burger joint.

(Note: Those who wait in line at Port Of Call can get the same burger at Snug Harbor a few blocks away, without the wait)

MY FAVORITE THAI RESTAURANT: SUKHO THAI, 2200 Royal St— My family eats a fair amount of Thai food. This place is always spot-on.

MY FAVORITE OYSTER BAR: PASCAL’S MANALE, 1838 Napoleon Avenue— It’s an old-school stand-up oyster bar. The oysters are always cold and salty. My son and I go there for the raw oysters and typically eat dinner somewhere else. Though he would probably tell you that Casamento’s is his favorite. Lately, the four of us have been eating oysters at Cooter Brown’s at the Riverbend (oysters always taste better in a dive bar).

MY FAVORITE ATMOSPHERE: SEAWORTHY, 630 Carondelet Street— The designers did such a great job on all aspects of this interior. I love it. Killer oyster selection, too.

MY OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH FAVORITE: ROSEDALE, 801 Rosedale Drive— You have to be going there to get there, but this Susan Spicer restaurant almost feels as if it were 100% tailor made for me— very casual, comfortable, with great service and excellent food. The barbeque shrimp served there should be the gold standard for all others. The fried chicken thighs perfect.

MY FAVORITE TACOS: GALAXIE TACOS, 3060 St. Claude Avenue— the barbacoa tacos here are spot-on. The converted gas station vibe is perfect, and there’s almost always a place to park on the neutral ground of St. Claude.

Other taco joints: Val’s, 4632 Freret— there must be something about tacos served in a converted gas station that appeals to me.

MY FAVORITE GUMBO: STATION 6, 105 Metairie-Hammond Highway— I have yet to finish a giant bowl of this gumbo that always comes out piping hot and loaded with large shrimp and plenty of oysters and crabmeat.

Other gumbos I like:

Herbsaint, 701 St. Charles Avenue

Gris Gris 1800 Magazine Street

MY FAVORITE SOUP: SHRIMP AND SQUASH BISQUE, BRIGTSEN’S, 723 Dante St— So good it’s worth mentioning twice in this list.


Herbsaint 701 St Charles Avenue

Cochon 930 Tchoupitoulas Street

Peche 800 Magazine Street


Mosca’s— the best red gravy in town. Also, the spot for Monday lunch Red Beans and Rice.

N7— cool outdoor area. Solid French-inspired cuisine.

Horn’s— another great locals-only breakfast spot.

Red’s Chinese— three words: Kung Pao Pastrami.

Gabrielle— glad they’re back.

Saint Germain— one of the best fine dining meals I’ve eaten in New Orleans in years. The chefs have excellent “touch.” It’s a tough reservation to get. Partially because there are only 12 seats inside, but also because it is so good.

Mosca’s— No need to make decisions, get the Spaghetti Bordelaise and the Oysters Mosca and eat them together.

Crabmeat Holleman

1 /2 cup Mayonnaise
2 Egg Yolks
1 Tbl. Sherry
1 Tbl. Creole Mustard
1 Tbl. Lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp. Crescent City Grill Creole Seasoning
1 tsp. Worcestershire
1 tsp. Crescent City Grill Cayenne & Garlic Sauce
1 /3 cup Red bell pepper, small dice
1 /3 cup Green bell pepper, small dice
1 lb. Jumbo lump crabmeat
1 /2 lb. Backfin lump crabmeat
2 8oz. wheels Brie or Camembert cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 Tbl. Seasoned breadcrumbs
8 Oven-proof ramekins or scallop shell

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the first eight ingredients and mix thoroughly with a wire whisk. Stir in peppers. Gently fold crabmeat into liquid mixture making sure not to break up the crabmeat lumps.

Place a layer of crabmeat mixture into a 6 oz. ramekin, then 2 cubes of Brie and another layer of crab. Top with seasoned breadcrumbs and bake for 10 – 12 minutes or until bubbly and breadcrumbs are brown. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Yield: 8

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and published cookbook author.

Orange Breakfast Muffins

School is starting back for the kiddos, and that means all hands on deck to make it as easy as possible!  What that means for me is planning suppers we are happy to sit down and eat together at the end of the day as well as breakfast the boys actually want to eat.  Don’t get me wrong, we love a cereal or Pop Tart morning just like most others, but baking something like these Orange Breakfast Muffins makes me feel as if I’ve contributed to their day a little bit better than that strawberry Pop Tart will.

These are really so so good.  I love a muffin that can hold a taste and not taste just like crumbs after a day.  This recipe is definitely that!  I hope you will try them and enjoy them!


• 1 3/4 cup flour
• 2/3 cup sugar
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup butter, melted
• 1 cup sour cream
• 1 large egg
• 1/4 cup orange juice
• Zest of 1 orange
• 1/4 teaspoon almond extract


• 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
• 1/4 cup orange juice
• 2 teaspoons orange zest


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a muffin tin with paper liners. 
In a large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

In another bowl whisk together the butter, sour cream, egg, orange juice, orange zest, and almond extract. Whisk well.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until combined. Fill muffin tins. Bake 16-18 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the glaze. Whisk powdered sugar with orange juice and orange zest. After muffins are done let them cool for 10 minutes before topping with glaze.

*Adapted from Damn Delicious.  Shared originally by Emily Porter.

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom, and contributor to Webster Parish, Natchitoches Parish, and Shreveport-Bossier journals, as well as a published cookbook author.

Hot Grill Summer, Vol. 9 – Bon Appetit avec Coq au Wine

Bonjour, mes amis! Tonight we soar across the Atlantic and dare to take on an amazing French dish: coq au vin. 

Coq au vin is another staple in our household, particularly when it’s cold outside and we have a little extra red wine around the house. (And if my mother-in-law or pastor is reading this, it’s, uh, just Welch’s Grape Juice). It also makes enough servings to warrant having some friends over to enjoy together. 

And can you guess which part of the chicken we’re using? If you’ve been reading this article weekly, you already know: thighs, baby. 

This recipe is certainly a labor of love, but the steps are easy to follow in the recipe linked below. This one has a video to boot. 

For starters, you’ll create three separate fonds with bacon fat, chicken fat, and chicken broth. Once that’s up to speed, you’ll add shallots, mushrooms and skin on, bone-in thighs next. 

Lastly, be sure to find a Burgundy for your red wine. I won’t steer you on brand, but treat yourself if you’re able. You’ll have enough to go around as well. 

I love this recipe. Find a baguette at your local bakery, and whip up some mashed russet potatoes as a starch to pair well for the meal. 

Merci beaucoup. Jouissez vous, et bon appetit. 


8 oz sliced bacon
6 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs 
2 shallots, sliced 
1/2 large yellow onion, diced (traditionally they use pearl onions) 
10 large button mushrooms, quartered 
2 tsp butter 
2 tsp flour 
1 1/2 cups red wine 
1 cup chicken broth 
6 springs thyme 
salt and pepper to taste 


Coq au vin recipe here

Support your local catfish house

By Robert St. John

We are a nation of regional dining concepts and local dishes. Chicago has deep-dish pizza parlors. New Orleans has po-boy shops. Ohio has chili parlors. Maine has lobster shacks. South Florida has crab shacks. Maryland also has crab shacks (there are a lot of shacks in regional dining). Oyster bars are scattered across the Gulf states, and barbeque concepts are spread across the South. You’ll find vinegar-based barbeque in North Carolina, sweet sauce in Georgia, spicy sauce in Tennessee, white sauce in Alabama, and almost all that sauce will be slathered on pork. In Texas beef brisket is king. Most of the best barbeque in those areas is served— again— in shacks.

Mississippi certainly has its share of good barbeque. We also have great po-boy shops in the southern part of the state, and oyster bars dotted all along the Coast. But if I were asked what defines local Mississippi cuisine— hands down— it would be catfish.

The primary and most unique regional dining concept in my home state is the goshalmighty catfish house.

It makes sense. Catfish is a major agricultural crop in Mississippi, and we’ll eat almost anything if you dunk it in enough hot grease.

I love catfish houses. I consider myself a connoisseur of catfish houses and have a 60-year track record of dining in them. For those reading this column outside of the south, it’s hard to drive 20 miles in any direction in this state without passing at least one catfish house (and several dollar stores). All catfish houses are slightly different in their menu offerings, but there are several universal and key components that are shared among all of them. They will all offer fried catfish filets as their primary menu item. The best catfish houses will offer whole catfish as well.

The catfish is not battered like New England-based fish— which probably originates from the British version of fish and chips— but lightly dusted in cornmeal, and sometimes with a touch of corn flour thrown in to make the crust lighter. Catfish will always be served with hushpuppies, French fries, and coleslaw.

The slaw will almost always be on the sweeter side and— many times— served first as an appetizer. I like to eat mine with Captain’s Wafers crackers. Other restaurants will serve hushpuppies first. Again, for those column readers above the Mason-Dixon line, hushpuppies are fried balls of cornmeal (I told you we love to fry) and are basically a cornmeal fritter.

Many catfish houses keep the menu simple and stop there. Most will offer fried shrimp and/or fried chicken. Others have extensive menu offerings, and several give away free ice cream for dessert. One thing is for certain, sweet tea will be the main beverage sold. And I’m talking about tea sweetened with so much sugar that the spoon almost stands on its own at the bottom of the glass. My rule for restaurants that offer sweet tea is that if you are in a state that has a team in the Southeastern Conference, you’ll be able to order sweet tea in a restaurant. If you are in a state that has two teams in the SEC— Tennessee, Alabama, and Mississippi— you’ll get the sweetest of sweet teas.

I don’t like catfish cooked any other way than fried. If I want grilled or broiled fish, I’ll cook a species out of the Gulf. Though I never fry Gulf fish. Catfish is the only fish I’ll fry.

My earliest memory of a catfish house was a place called Mixon’s just South of my hometown of Hattiesburg. My grandfather loved to celebrate his birthday there. They offered fried catfish and the usual suspects, coleslaw, French fries, but also made some of the best baked beans I have ever eaten. My grandfather took me on a father-son overnight canoe trip with several other father-son pairings, and the owner of Mixon’s catfish house drove deep into the woods to our campsite and served a catfish dinner. To this day, that is the best— and most memorable— catfish meal I have ever eaten.

I once owned a catfish house. Those days operating the 589 Family Fish House were some of the most fun periods in my restaurant career. In addition to catfish filets and whole catfish, we offered thin filets (a practice first used at Middendorf’s in Manchac, Louisiana). We served everything family style, including the typical supporting cast of characters, and had excellent hushpuppies, coleslaw, pickled onions, and fries, but we also sent servers throughout the dining room with complimentary turnip greens, fried okra, baked beans, and yeast rolls. September 11, 2001, changed the dining dynamic in the area where we were located and I packed everything up, put it in storage, and vowed to re-open one day. Who knows what the future holds?

Most Mississippi catfish houses offer an all-you-can-eat catfish menu option. This is not strange to those of us who grew up down here. Though one time I took a New York photographer who was in town shooting one of my cookbooks to a catfish house and I noticed him staring bug-eyed at the menu murmuring softly to himself, “All you can eat? All you can eat?” He looked up from the menu and asked, “You mean they just keep bringing it to you? How can they do that?”

“Buddy,” I said, “They’re not worried about a little fella like you. They’ve been here for more than 50 years. They know what they’re doing.” In addition to our restaurants, I always take our out-of-town guests to a catfish house. It’s always a true “Mississippi” experience.

A catfish house that doesn’t serve farm-raised Mississippi catfish should be immediately eliminated from consideration. You would be surprised at the number of places selling the imported Vietnamese knockoff species, basa, and calling it catfish. Always ask your favorite fish house what they are buying.

My local go-to catfish house in Hattiesburg is Rayner’s on Highway 49 North. I’ve been eating there for at least half a century. But recently, I have been spending a lot of time just outside of Purvis, Mississippi, and have rediscovered what I believe to be the best catfish house in the state— Cuevas’ Fish House.

To my taste, Cuevas is king of the hill when it comes to Mississippi catfish houses. They are located on the main drag in Purvis and just up the hill from what the locals call “Dollar Holler” a grouping of all three Dollar stores— Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Dollar Tree— next door to each other. Cuevas is big and busy. There’s a reason they’re busy— they’re good, and they’re good on all fronts, food quality and service. I went twice in the same week last week. The fish is fresh farm-raised Simmons catfish and is fried perfectly. The hushpuppies are even better. They also have excellent fried onion rings, and the most efficient service I have ever experienced in a catfish house.

They stay very busy, but our dining experiences— from the greeting we received at the front door, to the extremely friendly, fast, and efficient service at the table, to the quality if the food— have been stellar. Seriously, my visits to Cuevas have been the best overall experiences I’ve ever had at a catfish house, and I’ve been to hundreds (including my own).

Kudos to former elementary-school-principal-turned-restaurateur Jackie Cuevas. In a state with hundreds of catfish houses, she’s at the top, in my opinion. Jackie Cuevas runs a tight ship, and everyone who works there seems to enjoy the environment. They will see me again, often.


Daddy B’s Hushpuppies

1 cup White Corn Meal
1 ½ Medium white onion, grated

½ Green Bell Pepper, small dice
1 Heaping Tablespoon Salt
2 teaspoons Black Pepper
1 cup All-Purpose Martha White Flour
2 Tablespoons Baking Powder
2 Eggs
1/3 cup Warm Water

The night before preparation, in a mixing bowl, add corn meal, onion, bell pepper, salt, and pepper and mix well. Place in the refrigerator overnight.

To Prepare:

Heat oil in a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven, or deep fryer to 350 degrees.

Remove the bowl of cornmeal-onion mix from the refrigerator. Allow to sit at room temperature for 15 minutes. Add flour, baking powder, eggs, and water. Stir gently and let sit 3-5 minutes.

Using a spoon or scoop (about the size, or slightly smaller than a golf ball), drop batter into hot oil. Cook, turning once, until golden brown.

Drain on paper towels.

Yield: 30 hushpuppies (recipe can be doubled or tripled for large groups)

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author

Godiva Chocolate Pie

As a little girl one of my favorite memories is going to lunch at Café Bon Appetit in Shreveport, LA. I vividly remember standing up in the chair to ask a waitress for more sweet tea and fell over backwards, completely humiliated. The front part of the restaurant was full of gifts, cookbooks, and a Godiva chocolate case. We always oohed and aahed over the chocolates, but the truly best treat was a slice of the Godiva Chocolate Pie with homemade whipped cream on top for dessert.

Lucky for me, my mom has an old Café Bon Appetit cookbook, and she makes their Godiva Chocolate Pie at my request for our favorite holiday dessert. I am so happy whenever I am able to slice myself a piece (or two) of this, and therefore I am tickled to share it with you today.


· ½ cup butter
· 3 ounces Godiva or milk chocolate
· 4 eggs, beaten
· 3 tablespoons white corn syrup
· 1 ½ cups sugar
· ¼ teaspoon salt
· ¼ cup milk
· 1 teaspoon vanilla
· 1 pie shell, unbaked
· Ice cream of whipped cream for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter and chocolate in sauce pan. Remove from heat. Beat eggs until light and thick. Add other ingredients. Add chocolate and butter mixture. Mix well. Pour into pie shell. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until the top is crusty and the filling is set. Do not over bake. Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom and published cookbook author.

Hot Grill Summer – Vol. 8: “Gourmet on a Budget”

Ah, Maruchan Ramen Noodles. 

A familiar name to any college student. It meets the literal bare-minimum definition for human nutrition and sustenance, and even at inflation prices, it still comes in amazingly affordable. 

And this week, we are taking these cheap ramen packets and turning them gourmet. 

I know, I know; you were excited last week to finally be out with your grill. Trust me here, though, this is an amazing recipe that you can make as mild or “Send-me-to-the-ER” hot as you want (I prefer the latter). 

Gourmet ramen was another pandemic discovery for our family. I used to keep ramen around just for a carbo-boost if I needed, as the taste packets weren’t quite my jam. However, now, we can create a bowlful of taste and spice without a ton of effort. 

The recipe this week is another Halfbaked Harvest for the base, but I will be adding a recipe for katsu chicken breast that requires only an egg, Panko, and flour before frying in a skillet with oil. 

And just look at this picture at the bottom. Good grief; this was one of the prettiest plated dishes I’ve ever made. 

While I admit it may feel a little hot for ramen as we currently reside on the surface of the sun, you can wow your friends with an incredible recipe that will showcase your amazing culinary prowess. 

As always, thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoy. 


Ramen recipe: Click Here

Katsu chicken
Ingredients for four servings: 
2 chicken breasts, fileted and flattened 
All-purpose flour (enough to cover the chicken 
2 eggs, beaten 
Panko bread crumbs 
Salt and pepper 
Canola or vegetable oil 


  1. Heat oil in skillet or wok over medium heat. Pour enough to where there is about a half inch of standing oil at the bottom. 
  1. Separate three bowls: one for flour, one for the beaten egg, and one for Panko. 
  1. Salt and pepper chicken breasts. 
  1. Dip chicken breast in flour first to completely coat. 
  1. Dip floured chicken into egg mixture and completely coat. 
  1. Dip chicken in bowl with Panko, and completely coat (Seeing a pattern here?). 
  1. Fry chicken breast (2 at a time) in your pan, 3-5 minutes on each side. Golden brown is the goal. 
  1. Cut chicken into strips. 
  1. Top the ramen with the chicken. 
  1. Enjoy! 

The Restaurant Family takes a vacation

By Robert St. John

Last week I spent seven days in the Florida Panhandle on “vacation.” I used the word “vacation” because that is the easy, go-to, and common nomenclature one uses when describing time off from work. The problem with using that term is that I never really take time off from work. I’m not complaining, I like it that way. I love what I do. I don’t fish, hunt, play golf, or gamble. I love restaurants, food, and the restaurant business. If I have any hobbies I would have to state— other than the restaurant business, which is also my hobby— that movies, music, and football are what I enjoy in my pastime. But I am a spectator in all those activities. I am an active player in the restaurant business.

My vacations are a little different than most. I don’t vacation well. I take the family to the beach once a year. My son and daughter each bring a few friends and they all spend most days on the beach. My wife typically reads a book and does the things that one needs to do to take care of a lot of people crammed into a vacation home.

I never go to the Florida Panhandle without thinking about the two times I lived down there in my youth. The first time was in the spring of 1983, and I worked at a pizza/barbecue restaurant for several months. Those were during my wilder days, and I had yet to stop partying and settle down. My second stint in Destin was in 1987. I was four years sober and on the verge of opening my first restaurant. I was very serious about the restaurant business though life had a different pace.

My kids are sick of hearing all the stories about my early days in the Panhandle. As soon as I start to spout out a remembrance it’s quickly interrupted, “We know, dad. You lived at Sandpiper Cove. You got up every day went to the beach. You went to work. You went out at night. We know. We know. We’ve heard it all before.” This time I didn’t bore them with war stories from my glory days in the restaurant business in Destin. But I did do a lot of thinking about those days and how formative they were in my current situation.

In those days I could sleep late. These days if I’m still awake at 7:00 a.m. something’s wrong. I typically wake up at 5:00 a.m. But back then I could sleep until 10:00 a.m. or 11 even. I would wake up in my apartment— which was a two-bedroom, two-bath, fully furnished spot on the beach for $500.00 a month— walk down to the beach, head to my favorite little breakfast joint, June’s Dunes (even in those days I never missed breakfast). Then I would lie on the beach until mid-afternoon, shower, dress, go to work as a server at Harbor Docks, make good money, go home, shower, go back out to hear music or visit with friends, then sleep, rinse, wash, repeat. In those days I had the stress level of a piece of driftwood.

Last week I thought about my beach schedule in 1987 versus my vacation schedule of 2022. These days I get up between 5 and 6 a.m., shower, dress, find a breakfast joint that is open at 7 a.m., eat breakfast, attend a 12-step recovery meeting at 8 a.m., followed by a 9 a.m. breakfast if I couldn’t find a 7 a.m. place open. Then I head back to the house where my wife is typically awake (but everyone else is asleep), visit with her as she makes breakfast for the kids (who end up waking up around 11 a.m.). Once they have gone to the beach, I either hop on a bike or back in my truck to drive around and check out other restaurants.

Again, restaurants are my hobby. After a few hours of R&D I pick my wife up and we go to lunch at a restaurant I have scouted out, preferably with a beach view as neither of us are into lying in the hot sand. After lunch we’ll shop or I will take her back to read a book or nap. I will drive around and check out even more restaurants. I know it sounds monotonous but it’s relaxing to me. R&D is my R&R.

If we go to the beach, it’s typically after 6 p.m. We are the vampire family. Everyone else is coming in off the beach, sunburned and inebriated, and we are stone-cold sober and fish-belly white heading down to sit in a chair to watch the sun set. We have plenty of food to eat in the vacation house we rent because my wife always overbuys groceries for the trip, and we typically go out to dinner (because — once again — I’m in the restaurant business and I love restaurants). We get home around 10 p.m. and the kids typically go back out. I’m in bed and asleep by 11 p.m., only to get up rinse, wash, repeat, and do it all over again the next day.

That may not sound relaxing to most people. But it’s the only way I can do it. I’m extremely hyperactive and don’t do well sitting in one place. I just don’t do well lounging in someone else’s home while there are undiscovered restaurants in the area.

While on vacation, we usually bring a lot of groceries from home. Actually, we bring way too many groceries from home. Our intentions are good. We plan to have dinners and lunches in the rental home, but we rarely follow through on that plan. We go out to restaurants because that is what we do, though we still find ourselves at the grocery store a few times during the week to buy more food. We always come home with more groceries than we brought down. It’s baffling. But it’s also the nature of our family dynamic. We are a restaurant family. Always have been. Always will be.


Cilantro Spiked Corn, Crab, and Avocado Dip

Corn, crab, and avocado work well when paired together in a cold offering. The cilantro adds an additional coolness which makes this the perfect summer dip.

3 Tbl lime juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbl Tequila
1 /4 cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
3 avocados
1 1 /2 cup fresh cooked corn, cut from the cob (use frozen kernels if fresh is not available)
2 Tbl red bell pepper, finely diced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 /4 cup onion, finely chopped
1 cup fresh lump crab meat, picked of all shell
1 /8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 Tbl hot sauce
1 Tbl fresh chopped cilantro

Combine tequila, lime juice, olive oil, salt, hot sauce and cayenne pepper in a mixing bowl.

Peel and small dice the avocado, quickly placing the avocado in the lime juice mixture and tossing well so avocado is well coated.

Fold in remaining ingredients.

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author

Marry Me Chicken

Supper idea via Delish. I LOVED it. The boys thought eh?, but that’s because they don’t like sundried tomatoes. Little do they know, sundried tomatoes are one of life’s greatest pleasures! I love them in anything and everything. I couldn’t convince them otherwise so they ate just the chicken and no delicious saucy goodness. Their loss. Totally leave them out if you’re like my crew.

You know we are huge fans of cast iron skillet meals.  This one always stays at the top of that list.


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 6 bone-in skin-on chicken thighs
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves (or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Freshly torn basil, for serving


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  In a large oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil and butter.  Season chicken generously with salt and pepper.  Sear, skin side down, until golden, about 4-5 minutes per side.  Transfer chicken to a plate covered with a paper towel.

Add garlic, thyme, and red pepper flakes to the skillet.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in broth, heavy cream, tomatoes, and Parmesan.  Season with more salt and pepper.  Bring to a simmer, then return chicken to skillet, skin side up.

Transfer skillet to oven and bake until chicken is cooked through, 20 minutes.

Garnish with basil and serve.

*Recipe from Delish.

(Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom and cookbook author.)

Cooking in Love

By Kelsey Horath

There is something special about pulling out ingredients and cooking with a loved one. Between the whole process of cooking the meal, setting the table and enjoying the night’s creations, cooking might become one the favorite date time activities.

Cailee Fruge and her fiancée Caleb Whitten have taken nights out of the week to cook together for the last two years.

“Caleb and I began dating during the COVID shut down in 2020, so many of the restaurants were closed,” Fruge said. “That’s one reason we started cooking.”

Since applying these cooking dates into their schedule, Fruge and Whitten have found many perks to cooking at home like saving money and quality time.

“Cooking at one of our homes means saving money, while spending quality time together,” Fruge said. “Cooking together provides us the opportunity to be with each other and not get distracted by life.”

Allowing time to simply cook a meal with another presents some many opportunities to relax, unwind and have a meaningful conversation.

Brandi and Todd Whitlock cook together still after 14 years of marriage and three children later. This special time set aside at night to cook has always been a priority for the two.

“Cooking together really involves so many aspects that you need in a marriage,” Brandi Whitlock said. “We have had to learn to work together and we have to communicate with one another when making meals together.”

Brandi Whitlock said they have also learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses by cooking together and know who is best suited for each job in the cooking process.

“All these skills have helped our marriage become stronger,” Brandi Whitlock said.

As time passes and life moves forward, more events and activities will be added to the schedule and life will remain hectic. However, making cooking a priority will help ease the stress of a long day and give you time to reflect with someone you love.

“I know life is going to get busier whether it be with careers or kids but cooking together will help us have a definite time we can be together,” Fruge said. “It provides us an opportunity to be intentional about communicating about our days or each other.”

Italian Wedding Risotto with garlicky meatballs

Italian Wedding Risotto with Garlicky Meatballs.  Homemade meatballs are infinitely better than storebought, and with a cookie scoop, the easiest to make!  I love to make a double batch of whatever meatball recipe I am making to freeze for later.  It’s really too easy not to!  

I absolutely love risotto (a type of rice found in most grocery stores).  This combination of risotto, cheese, sauce, and meatballs is so divine!  It is mostly a one-dish meal also other than baking the meatballs in the oven.  


• 1 pound ground pork
• 1/2 cup Panko
• Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese, grated from a block, divided
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I did not use)
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• 5 garlic cloves, minced
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
• 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper, plus more to taste
• 4 cups chicken broth
• 2 cups water
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 cup butter, divided
• 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
• 1 celery stalk, finely chopped
• 1 1/2 cups uncooked Arborio rice (risotto)
• 3/4 cup dry white wine
• 3 cups baby spinach, torn (I did not use)


Preheat oven to high broil with rack 9 inches from heat. Combine pork, Panko, 1/2 cup cheese, parsley, egg, half of the garlic, half of the salt and half of the pepper in a stand mixer. Mix on low until combined. Do not over mix. (You can also do this by hand). Roll into 20 meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each). Place on broiler-safe baking sheet or stone. Broil until browned and cooked through, approximately 9 minutes. Set aside.

Combine chicken broth and water in medium sauce pan and heat to simmer. 

In a heavy skillet heat oil and 1/4 cup butter over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and remaining garlic. Cook, stirring constantly until onion is translucent. Add rice and stir for 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring often, until almost completely reduced, approximately 2 minutes. 

Add 1 cup of the warm broth to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add remaining stock, 1 cup at a time, stirring until liquid has been absorbed after each addition. Stir often for 20 minutes. I covered the pot in between this 20 minute time interval, lifting to stir.

Remove from heat. Stir in remaining cheese and remaining butter. Stir in spinach if using. Add meatballs on top.

Link to recipe:

(Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom and cookbook author.)

Hot Grill Summer – Vol. 6: Easy Caprese

Hot Grill Summer with Kyle Roberts

Fun fact: I only follow two people on Instagram.

First is my wonderful wife. Because she regularly posts pictures of our kids, it’s an easy way for me to show family photos on the go should the opportunity arise (and when you’ve been blessed with two cute kids, it’s pretty frequent).

The second is a magnificent food social media account titled “Half-Baked Harvest.” Judith discovered this site when we were cooking far more at home during the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. We’ve made appetizers, desserts, entrees, mixed drinks – you name it, and HBH hits a home run every dang time. After three years of following her recipes, I do not share this lightly: we have not had one meal that we did not like.

The recipe I’ll highlight for you today should be an appetizer. However, for my wife and I, its richness turned it into a full meal for us both. No regrets whatsoever- it was divine and only took a moderate effort of prep.

If you’re familiar with Caprese salad, you know the primary ingredients already: tomato, basil, olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, and of course, fresh pulled mozzarella. For today’s recipe, we will introduce you to burrata cheese, which is mozzarella in its finest evolved form.

Burrata (which is thankfully available here in Ruston; I hear that it’s not as easy to find in some of our surrounding areas) is mozzarella with extra cream added. It turns an already amazing cheese into an even creamier version that is both firm yet spreadable, which when layered over garlic ciabatta bread will send it way over the edge with the rest of the Caprese mix. Lastly, cooked prosciutto slices add another crispy and delightfully salty element to top it all off.

As I said, this turned into a full meal for us. But you’ll wow your friends if you cut the ciabatta bread into smaller portions and top it with the burrata and Caprese mixture. From a prepping perspective, the moderate effort was by far worth the finished product. And I assure you, as good as it looks plated (see below), it does not do the taste justice.

Instead of typing out the recipe for you, it would be much easier to link it here. This blog deserves a follow on social media if you have the chance, as well. I can tell you from experience: it’s worth it.

As always, thanks for reading! I hope you enjoy.

Welcome to America, My Dutch Friend

From left, Robert St. John, Jesse Marin and Harrison St. John

By Robert St. John

There is something deep inside of me that enjoys hosting people. It borderlines a compulsion or obsession. I’ve been that way since I was a little kid. Whenever I heard a new song on the radio, in my youth— and I had enough money to purchase a 45 single— I would ride my bike to the record store, by the record, and then spend the next week trying to get my friends to listen to it. I love turning people on to music. Six decades later, I still do it. A lot. Conversely, I also enjoy learning about new music from friends who have similar tastes.

In the years I worked in radio I was able to hear new music before it ever hit the market. That enabled me to introduce all sorts of great music to my friends before any of them had heard. When I got out of the radio business and moved into the restaurant business the search for new discoveries was the same. Though this time for food items, design elements, and restaurant concepts.

I have spent over 40 years in the restaurant business. Much of that time has been traveling around to different cities— and restaurants in those cities— to discover new dishes and new methods, as well as new themes, designs, and concepts. Restaurants are my hobby. Some of my friends live to play golf at Pebble Beach or Augusta. I live to travel to Chicago and go on a four-restaurant progressive dinner in one evening. It’s even better if I have people with me who have never eaten at those restaurants, or have never experienced a multi-location progressive dinner, St. John style. It’s a blast.

Several years back my church offered to give a test on spiritual gifts. Despite years of Sunday School, I had never heard of spiritual gifts. Had someone asked me if I had any, I might have been at a loss to answer. Though the test that evening stated that I have the spiritual gift of hospitality. Had you given me a list and asked me to list potential spiritual gifts, I would never have thought that hospitality would be on the list. Though there it was on my answer sheet, front and center.

I took the spiritual gifts test two other times at two different churches. Both times the test results stated that I had the spiritual gift of hospitality. The first thing that hit me was— I am certainly in the right business. The restaurant business is the hospitality business. But secondly, it answered the lifelong question of why I get such a kick out of turning people on to things I have discovered. It’s just another form of hospitality. It could be called “hosting.” I do a lot of hosting these days.

This hosting thing took a new turn several years ago when people started asking me to take them to Italy to tour to revisit the restaurants and places I discovered on a very long European sojourn back in 2011. Those requests sounded like a great idea, but I only planned on doing it once. That one time turned into 16 or 17 trips overseas, I have stopped counting. Each trip with 25 people, and each designed with the sole purpose of creating the most complete experience— whether in Tuscany, Rome, Amalfi, Naples, Venice, Bologna, Milan, or the entirety of the Spain— for the guest.

Those trips are nothing more than a modern-day extension of me going out and buying a 45 record in 1970 and turning my friends on to it. It’s just done overseas, and the music, food, and scenery are better. It’s basically coming from a premise of— I love this, I think you will love it too, here let me show it to you. Though, as a host, I am as happy as my least happy guest. So, it is always my number-one goal to keep everyone happy.

Traveling with a group of 25 people, especially the way I travel in groups, takes a lot of planning. Transportation is crucial. The vans must be where they are supposed to be at the scheduled time, or everything goes awry. Whether it’s picking up guests at the airport, dropping them off at the end of a trip, or just being at the meeting point in the city center of Florence or Rome. Our ride must be there. Lodging is also crucial. A night’s stay at a bad hotel when someone is already jet lagged will ruin an entire trip.

When we are in Tuscany, our friend Annagloria and her daughters handle a lot of the logistics. When we are in Venice our friend Chiara is on duty. In Milan our friends Barbara and Alberto help me make reservations and get us around town. It truly takes a team.

In 2022 I will spend 14 weeks hosting guests in Italy, on the Amalfi Coast and Rome, and several weeks with several groups in Tuscany, a long trip covering the majority of Spain, and we will be preparing for a new journey next year into Holland and Belgium. I am the host. But to pull off something as complicated as 25 people moving around a strange city or country not knowing the language takes a lot of boots on the ground and a logistical team to help me pull this off. One of those people, who does an excellent job at that is my friend Jesse Marin.

Jesse is a Dutch citizen who lives in Rome. I met him through another Dutch citizen who lives in Tuscany, Marina Mengelberg. She is also one of my boots on the ground tour guides who helped me with all the logistical issues while we are traveling overseas.

Jesse landed at the New Orleans airport last night. He will be here for two weeks. This time he is not the boots on the ground guy. I am. We are here to host him and give him a break from his busy schedule of booking tours all over the world. It’s a job I take seriously and it’s a job I enjoy. We will spend two days in New Orleans showing him the city, my son will take him out at night to show him the night life, and then we will cross the border into Mississippi and I will proudly show off my home state to my Dutch-Italian friend. The final leg of his tour will be in the Florida Panhandle before he heads to a friend’s weddinng in Miami and then fly home.

When he landed, my son picked him up at the airport and I met them at one of my go-to restaurants, Gris Gris on lower Magazine. As soon as he sat down he said, “I don’t really know what to do. I am not used to this. I am always the one planning the trip. My mother asked me my plans, and I told her that I didn’t have a clue. This is weird.”

My wife kids Jesse that he never works and is always on vacation in some exotic locale. The truth is he’s always working. He just works in vacation spots. “I got this, Jesse.” It’s time for me to host you. All you have to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.”



In the trattorias and osterias on the western coast of Sicily the day’s fresh, raw seafood catch is often displayed on ice in the dining room. One picks their specific fish and the server takes to back to the kitchen where it is prepared. There is usually an antipasta display and several vegetable courses served buffet style. Caponata is often among the offerings. Everyone prepares caponata differently. This preparation was inspired by my friend Annagloria, who is a native of Florence, but a lover of all things Sicilian.

1 each Red bell pepper, large diced
1 each Yellow bell pepper, large diced
1 each Large red onion, large diced
1 rib Celery, sliced
¼ cup Green olives, rough chopped
2 TB Capers
¼ cup Pine nuts
¼ cup Raisins
½ cup Extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Red wine vinegar
1 TB Sugar
1 each 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand, with juice
1 tsp Kosher salt
½ tsp Fresh ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375.

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Transfer to a large roasting pan and cook for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Robert St. John is a chef, restaurateur and cookbook author.