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.

MY OFTEN-RECOMMENDED NOT-IN-ANOTHER-CATEGORY FAVORITES (the Link trifecta)

Herbsaint 701 St Charles Avenue

Cochon 930 Tchoupitoulas Street

Peche 800 Magazine Street

OTHER RANDOM FAVORITES

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!

Muffins

• 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

Glaze

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

Directions

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. 

Ingredients 

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 

Directions 

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.

Onward.

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.

Ingredients

· 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. 

Recipe 

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 

Directions 

  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.

Onward.

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.

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

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.  

Ingredients

• 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)

Directions

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: https://thecopperwhisk.com/blogs/recipes/italian-wedding-risotto-with-garlicky-meatballs

(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.”

Onward.

Caponata

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.


Cookbooks are here!

By Ashley Madden Rowton

After waiting for what seemed like six Christmas mornings all put together when I was a child, I finally got to see the delivery truck drive into our yard late Wednesday afternoon. With the help of more people than I can thank here, we have unloaded and set up 2,000 cookbooks for delivery and pick-up.

If you ordered yours to ship, it is on the way to you if not already in your home. If you selected local pick-up, they are available at Parish Design Company on Broadway in Minden.

I am fulfilling wholesale orders for over a dozen locations this weekend. Extras are available online at http://www.thecopperwhisk.com until they are gone. Additional copies are also available at Parish Design Company and the following businesses for those who aren’t local.

Deb’s Stitchin Coop – Hooks, TX

Deen & Co. – Coushatta, LA

Good Gracious Boutique – Many, LA

Ivy & Stone – Bossier City

John Ward Interiors – Alexandria

Killgores Pharmacy – Haynesville

Lewis’ Gifts – Shreveport

Parish Design Co. – Minden

Pied a Terre – Natchitoches

Red Blooms – Haughton

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom and cookbook author. Email her at ashley@thecopperwhisk.com.


Harry’s Homecoming

Robert and Harrison St. John

By Robert St. John

I am a fan of first lines in books. But I also like last lines in movies. In the film adaptation of John Steinbeck’s, “Cannery Row,” John Huston— in one of the greatest film narrations this side of Morgan Freeman states that, “The world was once again spinning in greased grooves.” I don’t know if that line is in Steinbeck’s novel because I probably only read the Cliff’s Notes in high school, and hat was well over 40 years ago, but I know exactly what he was talking about.

My son wants to make the restaurant business a career. It’s nothing that I pushed or encouraged. The restaurant business is brutal enough for people who are passionate about our industry, it is miserable for people who are only halfway dedicated (or those who are in it just for the money). So, I set up an eight-year plan, that he— for the most part— has been following for the past couple of years.

He was to get a degree in business first. That four-year stretch of the plan is still in place, though we have called an audible. His second semester of college coincided with the onset of Covid. His college career for the next three semesters was filled with Zoom classes and challenges. This fall he seemed to be floundering a little and he kept expressing his desire to get out and start working in the industry. “We are going to stick to the plan we agreed upon,” I kept telling him. But around Christmas, he convinced me that taking a break for a bit and working in a kitchen for a while might serve to recharge his batteries.

That’s when Tuscany came into the picture.

In 2011, I took my family over to Europe for six months. We all loved it, our lives changed during that time, and none of us have been the same since. Though I think it affected the boy the most. He was struck with a severe case of wanderlust and has traveled back to Tuscany, often. We all love that area. He probably loves at the most. So, I made a deal with him that we would skip his last year of college, if he promised that he would finish one day. I couldn’t say much because I had done the same thing (though I graduated high school in 1979, and finally walked at my college graduation ceremony as a part of the class of 2000).

He could work for a friend of mine in Tuscany for a few months before heading off to culinary school which would put him back on the eight-year plan.

He got a one-bedroom, third-floor, walk-up apartment in the Santo Spirito neighborhood of Florence and took a 45-minute bus ride every day to the small town of Tavernelle to work for my friend Paolo and with his mother Giuliana, in the kitchen. That was five months ago.

My wife and I spent six weeks over there in the spring while I was working hosting tours, and we got to see him often. He seemed to be thriving in that environment. He knew the area better than I, and I have spent a couple of months of every year there for the past several years. It was so refreshing to have him take us to his favorite places in Florence and introduced us to the new friends that he had made over there.

He seems to have matured five years in five months. It was definitely the right decision, and he is now ready to go off to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York in September. There, he will resume the plan that we agreed-upon several years ago, and spend two years becoming a chef. After that, he will get out and work for friends of mine in the business for two years— first, in Chicago, then in New Orleans. Then, and only then, I told him he could come back to one of our restaurants. But he will start at the bottom just like everyone else. It won’t matter what his title is, where he has worked, or what his abilities are. He will start at the bottom and work his way up.

The beautiful part about the plan is that, if— anywhere along the way— he becomes disenchanted with the industry, or frustrated with the restaurant business, he will have weeded himself out early and saved everyone a lot of misery. So far, that doesn’t seem to be the case. He seems to be very enthusiastic and excited about his potential future working in restaurants, and even more so than five months ago.

I picked him up at the airport two days ago. His flight was delayed in Washington DC, and he arrived late on Sunday night. He wanted American food. The plan was to go to my friend Susan Spicer‘s restaurant, Rosedale, where one can find the absolute best barbecue shrimp on the planet. But I had to cancel the reservation when the flight got delayed. So, we just spent the night at our apartment. I had Popeyes spicy fried chicken waiting for him when he came through the door. It’s a tradition I have always done. As soon as I land back in America after a long lengthy Italian tour, I hit the Popeyes in the Atlanta airport before coming home.

The next morning he was up early since his internal clock was still getting adjusted to a new time zone. That was great for me because it afforded us the opportunity to go to breakfast. Our favorite breakfast place in New Orleans is La Boulangerie bakery. We got in the car and drove from the Marigny to Magazine Street. We caught up with news from home and abroad and talked about what he had learned and what he had experienced. We talked about the recipes he gathered while he was there, and the things he cooked in Giuliana‘s kitchen. We will be putting many of those to use in the coming days.

He was excited to come home and spend the night in his own bed and to see his mother. This morning we got up and ate breakfast at The Midtowner. He and I have eaten breakfast together all over the world. When we took the long trip, the girls always slept late, but he and I always got up and ate breakfast together. We have so many good memories of breakfast in 72 European cities over that wonderful six-month period.

Though none of those breakfasts can compare to what he and I enjoyed this morning at our breakfast joint. He wanted eggs and bacon cooked the American way. He hadn’t eaten hashbrowns in almost a half a year and was looking forward to those. He also wanted a biscuit. He typically doesn’t eat bread, or at least much of it, but he tore that cathead biscuit up in one sitting.

A couple of friends showed up and we told stories. My son spoke about his journeys in Italy and throughout Europe. I pushed away from the counter and took in the scene as he spoke. He seems as if he has matured five years in the past five months. The audible was the correct call.

Today’s breakfast was one that I will never forget. And, once again, the world is spinning in greased grooves.

Onward.

Pesto

I love pesto. It is one of my favorite flavor profiles— not only in Italian cooking, but— of all cuisines. It’s fresh tasting and clean. But it’s also light and extremely versatile.

I keep pesto portioned into small batches in the freezer. It thaws quickly and is perfect for a quick supper. Just place the pesto in a bowl and add a little extra virgin olive oil. Remove your favorite noodle from the boiling water and toss in the pesto. Finish with some grated pecorino and call it dinner.

1/3 cup Toasted pine nuts or almonds
2 cups Fresh basil leaves (2 oz. by weight)
1 TB Minced garlic
pinch Kosher salt
¼ cup Grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 TB Grated Pecorino Romano cheese
½ cup Extra virgin olive oil

Combine nuts, basil, garlic and salt in a food processor. Slowly add olive oil.

Remove and fold in cheese.

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

 


Hot Grill Summer, Vol. 5 – Sky’s out, (Chicken) Thighs out!

Call it cheating, but I’ve recently discovered how much I love precision temperature cooking.

Great chefs seem to have an extra sense for how hot to run a burner for a deep fry, or when the internal temp of an entrée is just perfect.

Me? I prefer to let technology do the work for me.

Today’s dish is skin-on deboned chicken thighs plated atop a kale salad and yam puree. This week, we will break out the sous vide for this recipe, which I briefly referenced in the ribeye column. A quick primer: this method takes food tightly sealed in a bag and cooks it underwater at a specific temperature.

(Of course, you can still get the same results by baking your chicken for 45 minutes in the oven, but where’s the fun in that? Join me in this brave new world and cook a chicken under some hot water!)

Some history, first. I learned about sous viding from my cousins, who made a delicious filet mignon one holiday season. I was intrigued (remember, I’m a tech-lover), and decided to order my own. The idea that you could prepare your food perfectly and without heating your whole house up was one I could not pass up. I ordered an Anova sous vide with a plastic container and had some fun trying to figure it out.

It did not come, though, without some major failings. Remember my friends who came to New York with us? Well, I cooked some chicken thighs for their family, and I thought I was safe because they cooked under the water at the temp for the appropriate time length. How embarrassed was I to see people cutting into pink chicken right under the skin when it was time to eat. So, even with technology, there is still room for some finesse.

I learned that the optimal way to cook chicken with the sous vide is to find skin-on, boneless thighs. And guess what? Chicken thighs do not come that way. You either get skin on and bone in, or boneless skinless. For me, I politely ask the butcher at the local market to debone the thighs for me and leave the skin on. After an understandably dirty look, they oblige, and I have the chicken the way I need it. You can try to debone yourself, but you’ll never be as good as a butcher. Fact.

Once the chicken has been in the sous vide, it’s technically cooked, but not ready to serve. The last and most important part of the sous vide is the finish. Same as with the ribeye, you heat a skillet to the highest setting and sear the skin until it’s perfectly browned. Your chicken will look weird at first before you finish it. That is completely normal.

I found this particular recipe online, and it changed the chicken game for me. My personal favorite cut of the chicken is the thigh, and this leave crispy skin on top with juicy meat right beneath. And when you combine with the magic of a kale salad and sweet potato purée, you’ll have a dish that harmonizes all areas of your taste buds.

As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoy if you try.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

Chicken thighs
Eight bone out, skin on chicken thighs
Salt
Pepper
Olive Oil
Kale salad
1 lb bag of kale
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsp golden raisins
Shredded asiago cheese to top
Squeezed lemon
Sweet potato purée
4 sweet potatoes, peeled, diced and boiled
¼ cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp cinnamon

Directions

Coat skin side of chicken with salt and pepper.
Prepare chicken either in the sous vide to 165 degrees for 1 hour or in the oven at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
While chicken is cooking, boil sweet potatoes for 30 minutes.
Massage the kale to tenderize.
Combine kale, raisins, pine nuts and lemon juice in a bowl.
Lightly cover top of salad with shredded asiago cheese.
Put sweet potatoes into a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth.
Pour sweet potatoes into a mixing bowl and add heavy whipping cream and cinnamon.
Mix together until purée is consistent color.

To plate: spread purée over the middle of the plate. Add kale salad, and top with finished chicken thighs.

Enjoy!


Taco Ranch Quiche

By Ashley Madden Rowton

I love this recipe for mixing up taco night.  I am always trying new recipes of course, but many times the boys kind of mope and say, “Mama, can you pleeeeeease cook just regular tacos?”  And I do.  I snuck this recipe in one night and they gave it all the thumbs up so we repeat it often.  This one is great for having something easy to throw together.  You could even double this and freeze one for later or take one to a friend.  Enjoy!

Ingredients

• 1/2 pound ground beef
• 1 can Rotel, undrained
• 2 tablespoons taco seasoning
• 1/3 cup Ranch dressing
• 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
• 3 eggs
• 1 cup heavy cream
• 1 deep dish frozen pie crust

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In skillet cook ground beef. Drain fat. Add Rotel. Add taco seasoning. Cook 2-3 minutes until liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and cool slightly. Add Ranch. Spoon mixture into bottom of pie crust. Top with cheese. Whisk together eggs and cream. Pour over meat and cheese mixture. Bake 50 – 60 minutes.

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


Hot Grill Summer: Vol. 4 – Burger Verde

We enter week four on our culinary journey this summer, and I again thank you for being along for the ride.

So far, we’ve made a delicious appetizer, a marvelous pizza, and a juicy medium-rare ribeye fit for a king.

Today, we enter the world of television. Particularly, a TV show about a family who runs a burger joint and hijinks ensue in each episode (stay with me; I’ve got a point).

Bob’s Burgers is an animated show on Fox entering its 13th season in September. Judith and I love this show, along with a lot of other borderline inappropriate shows, as well (Disclaimer: Hot Grill Summer is a judgement-free zone).

One of the show’s hooks is a running gag of pun-named burgers that is unique in every episode. And, as luck would have it, we were given a cookbook by a friend a few years ago that takes these jokes and makes them into actual burgers.

To spare you from watching the show, I’ve pulled one of the recipes that is our favorite to share with you today. In fact, the entire cookbook is found here, and whether you watch the show or not (and you should), it’s worth your while for excellent gourmet burger recipes.

This particular recipe is the “Poblano Picasso Burger” (the puns are cringe, but the burger is magnificent). The star of the show is a poblano and tomatillo based salsa verde that adds pizzazz atop a melted slice of Monterey Jack cheese and a gorgeous tomato slice.

Oh yeah, there’s a patty there, too.

Feel free to prepare the burger patty however you see fit. Personally, I’m a fan of burgers in a skillet, but grilling this one is just as good. We can have the same debate as last week about how you prefer your doneness, so I’ll leave that fine detail to you.

Before you cook your patty, you’ll want to spend time preparing the salsa verde. I know it’s ridiculously hot in your house right now, but I need you to put a stemmed and cut poblano pepper with husked tomatillos under your broiler for about 10 minutes. You’ll cook some onions over the stove top, and after the greenery comes out of the oven, you’ll add a jalapeno (can you tell I love those?) and throw everything into a blender or food processor until all is pureed. This paragraph looks like a labor of love, but I assure you, it’s worth it.

Melt a nice thick piece of Monterey Jack cheese on top of your patty. Add a slice of tomato on top, and then unashamedly douse the salsa verde all over before you put the top bun on. Every note of the burger will sing, and you’ll thank me later.

As always, thanks for reading.

Recipe

4 third-pound beef patties
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 large poblano pepper, seeded and sliced
4 tomatillos, husked
1 jalapeno
Monterey Jack
Sliced Tomato

Instructions:

Sauté onion in a pan over medium heat until translucent and aromatic.
Broil poblano and tomatillos for 10 minutes.
Transfer cooked poblano, tomatillos, and jalapeno into a blender or food processor and puree.
Cook patties to desired temperature.
Melt Monterey Jack slice over the patties.

Put patty on bottom bun. Top with tomato slice and a generous heaping of the salsa verde. Place top bun.

Enjoy!


Beach Bread

By Ashley Madden Rowton

I am NO fan of blue cheese. At all. I passed up this recipe quite a few times but then thought, ok, let me try this. It was such a hit, and even I could not detect the blue cheese in the flavor! This is a super popular recipe at the beachside restaurants in Florida. So if you aren’t beachside, you can at least make this and pretend that you are! It is absolutely delicious.

Ingredients:

• French bread baguette
• 6 tablespoons butter, melted
• Liberal shakes of garlic powder
• 1/3 cup blue cheese dressing
• 1/2 cup diced tomatoes
• 2 cups Italian cheese
• Salt & pepper to taste
• Chopped fresh parsley

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut baguette in half lengthwise and spread melted butter on each side. Sprinkle liberally with garlic powder. Spread dressing on each half. Top with tomatoes, cheese, salt, pepper and parsley. Bake 10-12 minutes.

*Recipe from Cookies & Cups.

Ashley Madden Rowton is a wife, mom and cookbook author


Hot Grill Summer, Vol. 1: Bacon wrapped jalapenos

As my wife can attest, there are few things that I am more passionate about than food. I mean, I love my children, but get me talking about what pairs best with a reverse seared medium rare ribeye, and I melt while I explain my affinity for twice baked potatoes and grilled asparagus wrapped in salty bacon.

(Hang on, just to clarify: I love my kids more than food… Most of the time.)

Having the opportunity to write a food-related column is something that excites me as we enter an incredibly hot summer in Lincoln Parish.

To that end, I am proud to introduce “Hot Grill Summer” (credit to my lovely wife for the terrific title) where I will walk you through 10 recipes throughout the next few sweltering months. We’ll fire up the wood-pellet grill, dunk chicken in a sous vide, make terrific appetizers, and bake with a 100-year-old cast iron skillet.

An important note before we continue: not every recipe is my own. I’ve done the hard work of scouring the internet for some of the best recipes I can make and share with you.

But for the first one, I’ll give you a simple recipe that I’ve come up with that you can serve for appetizers or as a standalone meal if you so choose. We start out with bacon-wrapped jalapenos this week.

I appreciate brevity when it’s warranted, and having only three ingredients in this particular recipe means you can easily whip this up and enjoy for yourself in less than an hour.

But let’s start with your trip through the grocery store. First thing is to head to the produce section and make sure you have some pretty big jalapenos to choose from. This is not a recipe for small poppers; no ma’am, you’re going for green glory here. Pick out somewhere between four to eight larger jalapeno peppers (not Anaheim, banana or bell). If you can’t find this many larger peppers, either head to a different store (especially if one of them advertises with the LPJ) or come back at a different time.

Once you have your peppers, all you’re missing is a small block of plain cream cheese and a package of bacon. Please check out at the register, and do not walk out without paying for your food.

Now that you’re home, preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Next, time to halve your peppers and scooping out the insides and the seeds. I use a grapefruit spoon that I assume one of my parents got as a housewarming gift forty years ago that somehow ended up in my kitchen drawer. I’ve never seen one anywhere else, but dadgum, it works well with jalapenos. Don’t dig too deeply; leave some of the inside pepper to add the spicy flavor when it’s time to dine.

After you’ve hollowed out your peppers, it’s time to fill with cream cheese. No need to overcomplicate with a filling bag- just use the same spoon and fill the pepper. I like to scrape off the top and level it out.

Lastly, you’ll wrap your jalapeno with the bacon. You can take a full piece for each half of jalapeno you have now (if you got closer to eight jalapenos in the store, I hope you get a second package of bacon).

Start by wrapping the back of the pepper at the top and then spiral your way down until the entire jalapeno is covered in bacon (see the picture).

HGS-AFTER-JALAPENOS

Spray a wired rack over a cooking sheet with some PAM and organize the peppers where they do not touch but are still pretty close together. Carefully place them in the oven and set a time for 25 minutes.

Once they’re out, let them sit for a few minutes. Remove and put them on a plate and serve! Enjoy with a cold drink of your choosing and enjoy your night.

I’m so excited to go on this journey with you all this summer. Stay tuned as we have a lot more to go from here.

Recipe

Ingredients
Jalapenos (4 to 8)
Bacon
Cream Cheese

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Halve the jalapenos down the middle. Core out the seeds and insides.
Fill with cream cheese.
Wrap jalapenos with bacon.
Place on a greased wire rack over a cooking sheet.
Cook for 25 minutes.

Take out and let sit for 5 minutes.

Enjoy!