Archive | August, 2009

Root Beer for Big Kids???

28 Aug


I found this scoop on Garden & Gun’s Big Bad Chef blog …  

Recently we caught wind of a new liquor based on the extremely alcoholic and very old recipe (circa 1700) for root tea. The original brew was made with anise, cloves, and birch bark, and the modern version doesn’t stray too far. (For the record, root tea lost its punch during the temperance movement when a seemingly well-intentioned pharmacist took out the alcohol and created the root beer we all know today.)
We expected this so-called original root beer to be syrupy sweet and cloying at best. Instead, the taste combined all kinds of low, deep flavors, like smoked black tea, nutmeg, cardamom, and sugar cane. Then it finished light with subtle notes of citrus and spearmint.
The folks who developed Root suggest pairing it with a good dark beer or simply enjoying it neat. We think it would also be splendid drizzled over vanilla ice cream. Consider yourself warned, though: Each $39 bottle is 80 proof, and a little goes a long way.

Cakes from “We Take the Cake”

28 Aug


Lori Karmel, the owner of We Take the Cake bakery in Ft. Lauderdale, was kind enough to send us some cakes to review for our web site and blog. It seems that Lori walked into the bakery to buy her son a birthday cake and was so impressed that she eventually bought the business. How’s that for a ringing endorsement?

The cakes are very attractively packaged (see above) and arrived in pretty good shape. That is not always the case with fine cakes like this, so they obviously know what they are doing.


Although the cake box wasn’t massive, we were astounded by the sheer height of the Coconut Layer Cake and Red Velvet Cake when they arrived at our home in Fairhope, Alabama.


The Red Velvet Cake was topped with decadent white chocolate shavings.


The combo of cream cheese icing, abundant white chocolate shavings, and the brilliant red cake is simply a delight to the senses. I am something of a Red Velvet afficianado and I must say this cake was very well done.  


The true highlight for me was the Coconut Layer Cake. It was a bit more rich and creamy than most coconut cakes we have sampled in the past. And they certainly don’t skimp on the coconut. That, to me, is always the true test of a fine coconut cake. Now most coconut cakes are good — this one was “Slap Yo Momma … and Grandmomma Good!”


No, the image above is not a Pac Man-themed cake. This is our Coconut Cake (from Lori and our new friends at We Take the Cake) after pulling off two generous slices for last night’s dessert. Oprah loves the cakes from We Take the Cake and that has been a blessing for this small business. We also encourage you to give them a try. The cakes run about $50 including shipping and are well worth it for a birthday, dinner party, corporate gifts, or special occasions of any kind. They also make a killer Key Lime Bundt cake. It is an incredibly moist pound cake drenched with real Key lime juice and then topped with a Key lime icing. It is a WINNER! 

Thanks, Lori — keep making them tall and tasty.

This Hash is Truly “Heavenly”

27 Aug


A Garden and Gun magazine reader’s poll mentioned a certain candy made by nuns right here in the Mobile Bay area. I was excited about it … but kinda ticked off that no one here in Mobile had steered me in their direction previously. Oh well, the Lord works in mysterious ways.  


The Visitation Monastery is a beautiful place, that’s for certain. So peaceful. You do indeed feel the spirit’s presence as you roam the grounds shaded by massive live oaks. The stately building you see directly above is actually the gift shop. The store is chock full of religious objects, books and jewelry. They also happen to make some divinely inspired candies.

monast candy2

Although the little devil perched on my shoulder urged me to try the thin mints, I ultimately purchased two boxes (one small, one large) of the Heavenly Hash. Now if you’re a Yankee, you might be thinking, “What in the hell is Heavenly Hash?” Others may just be familiar with it as an ice cream flavor at their corner scoop shop. It really is a candy, people … and a spectacular one when created by hands touched (or perhaps guided) by God.   

monast candy

You might call it a Holy Trinity: Fresh Milk Chocolate, local Pecans, and homemade Marshmallows. Blend them together and you have yourself a tasty mess of Heavenly Hash. The small box is just for me. The big box is for a church supper this Friday night. Talk about your matches made in heaven!

monast mary

Praise the Lord and pass the hash! When did you last hear that?

Dark and Stormy Should be Mobile’s Drink

23 Aug

File:Dark n Stormy.jpg

The Dark and Stormy is the official drink of Bermuda. That is set in stone. However, I would like to nominate this refreshing cocktail as the official beverage of the City of Mobile, AL. Why? Because it rains so doggone much here. And it’s hot. And humid. An incredibly humid during the months of May through September. And if you happen to get caught up in a hurricane, this libation will take the edge off and help you weather the storm. So … do I have your vote?

A Dark and Stormy (or Dark ‘n’ Stormy) is an alcoholic highball style cocktail popular in many British Commonwealth countries, such as Australia and Bermuda. It consists of dark rum and ginger beer over ice. The local rum is usually used, for example, Bundaberg in Australia or Goslings in Bermuda. [1]The drink is also popular in Rhode Island, particularly Newport.

Barritts, a Bermudian brand of ginger ale, has the essential bite without a burn, and is almost always used as the base for the Dark ‘n’ Stormy at bars and restaurants in Bermuda. [6] The trademark only allows it to be made with a measure (1.5oz) of Black Seal Rum and ginger beer to taste. It is optionally accompanied by a slice of lime.

Pour the rum into a glass over ice. Pour the Bundaberg Ginger Beer over it. Squeeze in the lime wedge and drop it in. [7]

While the Dark ‘n’ Stormy is traditionally made with dark rum, one variation nicknamed the Light ‘n’ Stormy uses 10 Cane, a light rum. Combine 1 1/2 oz. 10 Cane rum with 1 1/2 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice and 6-8 oz. Blenheim’s Pink Cap Ginger Ale over ice.

ginger beer

  1. Place several ice cubes in a tall glass, such as a collins, and add rum.
  2. Top with ginger beer, add a lime wedge, and stir.

Mississippi’s Legendary Hoover Sauce

22 Aug

hoover 1

I have long heard of this magical elixir, but I’ve never tasted it.

Maybe that day is coming soon — I hope!

September 19, 2007 

LOUISE, Miss. — Hoover Lee’s small batch honey-brown Mississippi Delta marinade imparts a flavor that reflects its maker — a dash of the Deep South with nuanced notes of Asia.

“My main thing was trying to get a sauce that tasted like roasted Cantonese duck — that type of taste,” the 73-year-old native of China says in a booming baritone with a distinctively Southern cadence.

And that blending of cultures has proved hugely popular, despite Lee’s unwillingness to market by more than word of mouth.

It’s also putting this fading farm town of about 300 people on the culinary map. Recipes and stories featuring the sauce have appeared in regional newspapers and magazines, and Southern Living magazine recently named it an editors’ pick.

“It’s surprising to me that it’s beginning to move fast,” says Lee, who has been concocting the sauce from a secret recipe and selling it out of his Lee Hong Co. general store since the early 1980s. “In the past I’ve just been dealing with local people.”

Now he even gets recognized on the street 1 1/2 hours away in Jackson.

“‘That’s Mr. Hoover, the Hoover Sauce man,'” Lee says he often overhears people say. “It was just a hobby that turned into a working hobby now. I’ve just been blessed.”

Salty and sweet

Hoover Sauce blends the saltiness of soy sauce with the sweetness of, well … Lee won’t say. Whatever it is, it works magic with chicken and baby back ribs, and he says people drive for miles to get it.

Though he has yet to sell Hoover Sauce online, Lee increasingly finds himself packing up jugs of it to ship to customers around the country and beyond. He’s sent it as far west as Hawaii and as far east as France.

“You know, the guy could make a damn fortune if he’d market it,” says Billy Ray Adams, a Hoover Sauce customer who uses it on steak, ribs, hamburgers, wings, pork, venison sausage and nearly anything else.

Lee seems about as versatile as his sauce. In a region not known for prosperity or for a tolerance for minorities in the past, he not only has run a successful business in a town where few remain, he also served as the community’s mayor and an alderman for many years.

Lee was born in 1933 in the Canton region of China, but less than a year later he and his family moved to Mississippi, where his father had run a store since 1917. Tensions between China and Japan prompted the return to the U.S.

Running the store

After a stint in the Army and graduation with a business degree from Mississippi State University, Lee returned to Louise at his father’s request to take over the family store. He decided to honor his parents after his brothers declined to return to Louise.

“I said, ‘I tell you what, I’ll come back here for five years. I’ll run it for five years,'” Lee says. “And I’ve been here ever since.”

Today, the store is one of the few remaining businesses in Louise. Several Chinese families carved out lives in the area as storeowners, but most have since moved on. The Lees stayed, saying they found a greater acceptance than others in the Delta.

Lee gave the store to his sons in 1997, but the Hoover Sauce hasn’t let him slow down. Not only won’t he say what’s in it, he makes it himself and hesitates to even show outsiders the room where he mixes it.

“Visualize,” he says. “I have a line of mixers, which I use to blend basically soy sauce plus a sweetener and other spices.”

Even his wife must mostly visualize. She’s not allowed to help make it.

“No, I just have to clean the pots and the pans,” the 70-year-old said. “He loves it. He does it all himself. I can’t even fuss about the area. He keeps it a mess, but I clean up behind him.”

Lee became interested in cooking watching his mother and sisters, and the men who cooked stir-fry at parties held by the area’s Chinese families. He began his search for the right sauce after sampling several uneven attempts at Cantonese duck.

“Some would hit the mark and some wouldn’t,” Lee said.

He refined his sauce during the 1970s, when he first got into local politics and often found himself cooking for volunteer firefighters and church gatherings. Only later, after many requests from fans, did he consider selling it.

Today, he sells it in quart-size glass canning jars and large plastic jugs for $6.95 a quart or $21.50 a gallon. He sells enough to keep him busy, but doesn’t track exactly how much he moves in a year.

The sauce draws folks such as Alan Holditch, of Jackson. Holditch mixes the marinade with honey, then spreads it on steaks while grilling. He stocks up every few months, when his job takes him to Louise.

“I’ll stop and get a gallon,” Holditch says. “We’ve got so many friends that use it, it doesn’t take me long to get rid of a gallon. Once every three or four months I’ll have to get another gallon.”

If you can’t get down to Louise, Miss., to get a jar of Hoover Lee’s sweet and salty Hoover Sauce, he suggests making a similar marinade out of bottled hoisin sauce (check the grocer’s Asian section), onion powder, minced fresh garlic and chopped fresh cilantro.

hoover 2

Hoover’s Chicken Drummettes

Start to finish: 40 minutes

Servings: 4

3 pounds chicken wings

2 cups Hoover Sauce (or similar sweet-and-salty marinade)

2 cups cold water

1 cup ketchup

1 teaspoon yellow mustard powder (more or less to taste)

Vegetable oil

Place the chicken wings in a large stockpot. Add the Hoover Sauce or other marinade and cold water. If the liquid doesn’t completely cover the chicken, add more water. Bring the chicken to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 12 minutes. Remove the chicken, drain well and discard the liquid.

While the chicken simmers, make the dipping sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together the ketchup and mustard powder. Set aside.

In a large, deep skillet, heat 1 inch of oil over medium heat until it reaches about 350 degrees. Carefully add the chicken in a single layer (you may need to cook in batches) and fry until just starting to brown, turning for even cooking, about 4 minutes.

Remove the chicken and drain on paper towels. Serve with dipping sauce.

— Recipe from Hoover Lee, maker of Hoover Sauce in Louise, Miss.

Stanley & Drago’s – New School New Orleans

22 Aug


Our SFA friend Sara Roahen tipped us to a French Quarter eatery dubbed “Stanley.” Stanley as in Stanley Kowalski, the Marlon Brando character in the Southern fried cinematic classic, “A Streetcar Named Desire.” We were determined to dine outside our comfort zone of regular Big Easy favorites.


The gumbo at Stanley was very dark and rich. So dark, in fact, that I almost thought (following the first spoonful) that the roux had been burned. I am happy to report that this was not the case at all. Further tasting resulted in an amazingly complex flavor profile. It was truly excellent, but I really love all things rich, mysterious and spicy. Others may be a little undecided about the almost coffee-like overtone and a pretty potent kick of cayenne.  


The decor was totally New Orleans. Classy yet quite comfortable.


The Eggs Stanley was a nice mid-day dish. Canadian bacon over toasted English muffins, topped with perfectly poached eggs, a light (not too thick) Hollandaise sauce, and four large fried oysters.  This tasty mix of flavors and textures had me shouting … “STELLA!!!”


Drago’s is located in the waterfront Hilton hotel, yet it is in no way your typical hotel restaurant. Although I am not sure about the rest of the menu, I can tell you that the chargrilled oysters are nothing short of perfection on the half shell.


The local oysters are opened and laid directly on the grill. This process delivers a deliciously smoky hint to each briny bi-valve. The oysters are topped with lemon juice, Parmesan cheese, butter, and Lord knows what else. Simply fabulous — one of the best bites of the entire weekend trip.  


 The accompanying hunk of French bread was superb as well.

I just couldn’t resist asking where it was made.  


 My answer was on the large brown bags stored at the end of the bar.

Leidenheimer Bakery does make an incredible bread – great for dipping!


The four of us gouged at and slurped down these babies like it was our last meal on the planet. Sparks flew from the greyish shells, buttery goodness dripped down our chins, an occasional piece of shell was swallowed in the process.

Shear happiness on a plate — get here as soon as you can & tell a friend.

Los Tacos Moves Inside in Fairhope, AL

22 Aug


The first couple of times I dined at Los Tacos, I ordered from the truck you see above and I ate in my car. Times must be good for Los Tacos because they have moved indoors to a cooler – and more more spacious dining area.


I was tempted by the window sign pushing 99 cent Chorizo tacos. But I remained strong and stuck with my original plan: one taco al pastor and one carnitas taco.


Yup … they actually have a door now. Moving on up!


Taco al Pastor — Mexican style with cilantro, onion and lime on a corn tortilla. Well, really two corn tortillas. That is a genius idea because these meaty little diablos would likely burst open if you used just one tortilla.


The carnitas (pork) taco shown above was a meaty delight — no skimping on the pig meat this day. I wasted no time in assaulting that one first.


I squeezed a bit of lime juice on each taco and dug in. An occasional dip into the green and red salsas provided the meal with just the right amount of spice.


The salsas are dished out by diners into these tiny paper cups. You may find that you will need several of these babies before your feeding frenzy is complete.


This view gives you an idea of how much meat they stuffed into one little $1.69 taco. This kind of generosity pays off in the long run because word of mouth will praise the value offered at Los Tacos.

Congrats on the news digs , folks. But please don’t get too big, too fast.

To be honest, you totally had me at “Carnitas!”

Friday Lunch at The Sugar Kettle Cafe

21 Aug


Dined at the Sugar Kettle Cafe in Daphne earlier today. What a treat! It is located just off Highway 98 — on State Highway 64. It’s just a stones throw (but really worlds away) from our neighborhood Target. Looks like a homey little place from the outside … kinda like a visit to Granny’s house. We circled the joint twice before we found a parking spot. That’s always a good sign.


The hamburger steak with mushroom/onion gravy tasted like the stuff my Mom used to make. And trust me, that is a really good thing! The cornbread muffins were soft and laden with corn kernals. There was a hint of sweetness that reminded me of Southern spoonbread. Sooo good!


Speaking of good, the Sugar Kettle’s soon to be world famous Tomato Pie was killer. In fact, I would have to say it was the best I ever put in my pie hole. “Attack of the Killer Tomato … PIE!!!”


Look at this slab of beauty — words can’t describe its innate greatness.


The collard greens were the real deal … none of that canned junk.


The Mac n Cheese was really flavorful and had a gooey nice texture.


We finished up with a tart Triple Berry Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream. 


The servers keep tabs of the food orders with playing cards like you see above. I must add that good eating will surely “be in the cards” for you at the Sugar Kettle Cafe. I was really impressed and will be back — hopefully often. It’s my new favorite when it comes to authentic home cookin’ here in beautiful Baldwin County.  

Here’s the recipe for the Tomato Pie – you cannot go wrong, people!

Tomato Pie Recipe
1 round pie crust           

1 cup shredded mozzarella
2 or 3 tomatoes (peeled & sliced)        

1 cup shredded cheddar
1/2 cup green onions (sliced)            

1/2 cup fresh basil (chopped)
salt & pepper
“Enjoy … compliments of The Sugar Kettle Cafe!”

Layer tomatoes, green onion, basil, salt & pepper to your own taste inside pie crust.   Mix mayo and cheeses. Spread on top of ingredients in pie crust.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Roussos is Closing — BUMMER!

21 Aug


This is sad news, folks. Good eats — and even better people!

Fifty-five years after it served its first shrimp on the Causeway, Roussos, now located just south of Interstate 10 in Daphne, will serve its last dishes this weekend.

The family restaurant, which has survived destructive storms and three moves, hasn’t been able to weather a shriveled economy and will close it’s doors for good at 3 p.m. Sunday after one final lunch service.


“We just made this decision this week,” Georgia Roussos, who runs the business her parents founded with brothers Jimmy and John, said Friday. “It’s been a difficult decision to make.”

George and Zenia Roussos opened the restaurant, a seafood place with a Greek bent, on the Causeway in 1954.

When Hurricane Frederic destroyed the eatery in 1979, the business relocated to Mobile’s Fort Conde area. In 2004, four years after George died, his children moved Roussos to the Eastern Shore Centre in Spanish Fort. Four years after that, they moved it to its present location in Daphne on U.S. 98 near the entrance to the Lake Forest Yacht Club.

“Our business here in Daphne was very strong until last fall,” Jimmy Roussos said in a news release. “It is a good location and the area was very supportive. Then the economic downturn really hit us hard, like it has a lot of restaurants.”

Around October the restaurant began seeing changes in their customers, Georgia Roussos said. They came less frequently, $10 lunch tabs became $7, diners began cutting out extras like wine and desert.

The family hopes to continue operating its catering business after the restaurant closes, but they’ve yet to find a location to work from, said Georgia Roussos, who began cashiering at the restaurant as a teen in the 1970s and whose own children had there first jobs in the kitchen. Someday, she said, the restaurant might even be able to reopen.

“This is without a doubt the toughest decision our family has ever made,” John Roussos said in the release. “The restaurant isn’t a just job to us. It is our way of life.”

Andouille & Beef Burgers Recipe

21 Aug


Saw this one on Saveur’s web site. Looks absolutely killer!

Spicy mayonnaise

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon Cajun or Creole seasoning blend
  • 1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce


  • 1/2 pound andouille sausage, cut into scant 1/4-inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup pecans, toasted, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck or ground beef (20 percent fat)

Caramelized onions

  • 1 1/2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil plus more for brushing grill rack
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon golden brown sugar


  • 6 large hamburger buns, split
  • 8 ounces crumbled blue cheese


  • 12 pickled okra pods, halved lengthwise*
  • 3 cups watercress tops

For mayonnaise:
Mix all ingredients in small bowl. Cover and chill.

Do ahead: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled.

For burgers:
Toss first 4 ingredients in large bowl. Add beef; blend gently. Shape mixture into six 1/2-inch-thick patties. Transfer patties to small baking sheet.

Do ahead: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

For onions:
Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). Toss onions and next 3 ingredients in large skillet. Place skillet on grill; cook until onions are golden, stirring often, about 25 minutes. Remove from grill; season with salt and pepper.

Brush grill rack with olive oil. Grill buns, cut side down, until golden, about 2 minutes. Transfer buns to work surface. Grill burgers until brown on bottom, about 3 minutes. Turn over; sprinkle with cheese. Grill until burgers are cooked to desired doneness, about 3 minutes for medium. Place some onions, then burger, on each bun bottom. Top each with okra and watercress. Spread mayonnaise on cut side of bun tops; place on burgers. Serve with remaining mayonnaise.

*Shopping tip: Look for pickled okra where the pickles and relishes are displayed.