Southern cooking

Take a fish to lunch at The Beach, Florida's best kept secret

Digging into some delicious fresh seafood at the Destin Seafood Festival

October is National Seafood month and what better place is there to enjoy fresh seafood than at The Beach on Northwest Florida’s gulf coast.

Take a fish or shellfish to lunch when you show up at one of the many fall foodie festivals taking place all across the 227-mile coastline of The Beach. Local chefs will be cooking up everything from shrimp to barbecue to German sausages.

The action starts in late September each year and continues through the month of November. Join thousands of visitors who venture to these sugar-sand shores for great food, fine wine and live music.

Here you’ll find fish and shellfish boiled, fried, blackened, sautéed, raw and as the featured item in many original culinary creations.

Check out competitions between the best local cooks, mouth-watering recipes from area restaurants as well as the best vintage wines  and home brews.  The festivals are like one long progressive dinner and everyone’s invited.

Grab a handful of napkins, check out the menu and dig in to fall culinary travel at The Beach.

Taste of The Beach Chef in action

Here are the appetizers.

32nd Annual Pensacola Seafood Festival - September 25-27, 2009

Hours: Friday, Sept. 25, Noon – 11 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, 10 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 27, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Seville Square in downtown Pensacola, 850-433-6512 or

Tthe Pensacola Seafood Festival is one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s “Top 20 Events in the Southeast,” and one of the largest events in Florida, with over 100,000 in attendance.

Area chefs offer selections that include fried grouper, blackened mahi mahi, and Pensacola crab ball, while festival goers enjoy the arts and crafts of over 175 vendors. Live music by a dozen local bands, cooking demonstrations, a 5K walk/run, a Splash Dog competition and children’s activities make this three-day event an area favorite.

Admission is free.

31st Annual Destin Seafood Festival - October 2-4, 2009

Hours: Friday, Oct. 2, 4 - 10 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 3, 10 a.m. - 10 p.m., and Sunday, Oct. 4,

11 a.m. - 4 p.m.

HarborWalk Village on the Destin Harbor, 850-837-2711 or

Also listed in the Southeast Tourism Society’s “Top 20 Events in the Southeast,” the Destin Seafood Festival offers fresh seafood prepared by some of the area’s most popular restaurants, while local bands share the stage with top national music makers.

This year’s headliners are Survivor and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.

Children’s activities and arts and crafts booths overlook the Destin Harbor where the month-long Destin Fishing Rodeo takes place each October.

Festival goers can watch the afternoon weigh-ins on the docks as anglers compete for cash and prizes.

Around 36,000 people attend the three-day event.

Admission for all three days is $15, or you may purchase daily admission bands for $5 each for Friday and Sunday and $10 for Saturday.

OktoberfestOctober 2 & 3, 2009

Hours: Friday, Oct. 2, 5 – 10 p.m., Saturday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.

Grace Avenue, downtown Panama City, 850-785-2554 or

Dig out the lederhosen it’s Oktoberfest time.

Each year downtown Panama City is transformed into a German-style village, with accordion players, carnival rides, sausage eating contests and lots of food and local brews.

Tthis beer and brats fest annually attracts more than 25,000 people.  Family activities include clowns and face painting for the kids, and beer tastings and polka dancing for the grown-ups.

Admission is free.

3rd Annual Blue Jeans & BBQOctober 3, 2009

Hours: Saturday, Oct. 3, 3 – 9 p.m.

Hayes Ranch, 5097 Berryhill Road in Milton, 850-208-7122 or

Both a food festival and a bull riding competition, Blue Jeans & BBQ shows off the country side of The Beach and includes arts and crafts vendors and children’s activities.

There are Kiddie Korral games from 3-7 p.m., and the bull riding competition from 7 - 9 p.m., as well as live entertainment, lots of down-home BBQ, and drawings.

Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs.

Tickets are $10 each prior to the event or $15 at the door. Children 5 and under are free.  All funds raised from the event go to Covenant Hospice.

Festa ItalianaOctober 9 & 10, 2009

Hours: Friday, Oct. 9, 5-9 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 10, 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Sons of Italy Lodge, 808 South Dr., Fort Walton Beach, 850-651-4008

Hosted by the Sons of Italy Lodge #2422, Festa Italiana is an old fashioned street festival with authentic Italian food and live entertainment.

Admission is free.

St. George Island Oyster Spat Festival - October 9 & 10, 2009

Hours: (Eastern Time Zone) events at various times starting at 8 a.m.

St. George Island on the beach, 850-653-8678 (Franklin County TDC) or

Oysters reign supreme at this festival on St. George Island that includes a parade, a treasure hunt, live music and a 5K race.

Area residents are proud of their long-standing oystering, fishing and shrimping traditions, and with 90% of Florida oysters coming from the Apalachicola Bay, they have lots of facts about the humble mollusk.

For instance, an oyster spat is a baby oyster that has just passed the larva stage and has attached itself to its home base.  Who knew?

Festival goers can attach themselves to plates of oysters and other seafood at this two-day festival on the beach.

Panama City Beach Seafood, Wine & Music Festival - October 9-11, 2009

Hours: Friday, Oct. 9, 4 - 11 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 10, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 11,

11 a.m. -11 p.m.

Frank Brown Park on Hwy 98 (Back Beach Road) across from Pier Park, Panama City Beach or

Combining three ever popular activities into one huge event, the Panama City Beach Seafood, Wine & Music Festival pairs daily wine tastings with celebrity chef exhibitions and nationally known performers in jazz, rock, reggae and country music.

The 2009 stars include Grand Funk Railroad, Julianne Hough, John Anderson, and STYX.

This celebration of seafood and fun also hosts a classic car show, antiques vendors, arts and crafts, and features wine from local and nationally recognized vineyards.

Bring a lawn chair or a blanket for the shows.

Advanced tickets start at $15 per person per day. Children 12 and under are free. Parking is $5 per car per day.

33rd Annual Boggy Bayou Mullet FestivalOctober 16–18, 2009

Opening Hours: Friday, Oct. 16 at 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 17 at 9 a.m., Sunday, Oct. 18 at 10 a.m.

Mullet Festival Grounds, State Road 85 North at College Blvd., Niceville or

The main attractions for this fishy weekend are mullet and music, especially fried mullet, and country music by this year’s headliners, Blake Shelton, Chuck Wicks and Billy Ray Cyrus.

Named after the mullet, a fish found in abundance in the local waters, the Boggy Bayou Mullet festival features an arts and crafts show, a juried art show and handmade and decorated clothing in the Boutique area.

Additionally, more than 40,000 hungry mullet fans will consume up to 10 tons of this humble fish during the three-day festival along with seafood, international foods, Cajun and country cooking.

Admission is $10 per person and includes all entertainment. Children 11 and under are free.

11th Annual Mexico Beach Art & Wine FestivalOctober 17, 2009

Hours: Saturday, Oct. 17, 2 – 10 p.m.

Driftwood Inn, 2105 Highway 98, Mexico Beach, 850-648-8196 or

The sleepy gulf coast town of Mexico Beach comes alive with fine artists and fine wine at the annual Mexico Beach Art & Wine Festival.

Over 30 artists from across the country display their artwork and vie for over $2,000 in prize money.

Patrons enjoy live entertainment while they peruse the artists’ works, sipping great wines and sampling great food from local restaurants.

Tickets are $10 per person and all proceeds go to Special Events of Mexico Beach.

Taste of The Beach - November 5-8, 2009

Hours: Events at various times and locations over four days

The newest of the Northwest Florida food festivals, Taste of The Beach is like a progressive dinner, stretching through three gulf coast counties over a four day period.

Southern Wine & Spirits is the exclusive distributor for Taste of The Beach. They and their suppliers provide the wine for this culinary and cultural charity fund raiser which offers wine dinners and walk-about food events in various locations.

It all starts on Thursday, November 5 with Taste of The Destin Harbor, located at the Emerald Grande overlooking East Pass and the harbor in Destin.

From there progress to Taste of Bay at Pier Park in Panama City Beach, Seeing Red Wine Festival in Seaside, and Taste of The Beach & Charity Auction at the Hilton Sandestin Beach in Miramar Beach. Also included is the Telluride MountainFilm on Tour festival at Watercolor.

Ticket prices vary by event and proceeds benefit regional children’s advocacy and medical foundations.

46th Annual Florida Seafood Festival - November 6 & 7, 2009

Hours: (Eastern Time Zone) Friday, Nov. 6, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 7, 10 a.m. – 11 p.m.

Battery Park, downtown Apalachicola, 888-653-8011 or

Florida’s first and oldest seafood festival, established in 1963, the Florida Seafood Festival takes place in downtown historic Apalachicola at the mouth of the Apalachicola River.

The highlight of the two-day event is the Oyster Shucking Contest followed by the Oyster Eating Contest. Some participants have been known to eat as many as 300 oysters in the allotted 15 minutes of time.

Mounds of seafood prepared by local residents, arts and crafts, live music, blue crab races, a parade, the blessing of the fleet, and the crowning of Miss Florida Seafood Festival, make this piece of forgotten Florida a don’t-miss event.

Low Country Boil highlight of Eagle Island Getaway

Eagle Island is where I want to be right about now

It's officially autumn, but the Southeast is the perfect place to head when you just have to squeeze in one last getaway before the weather turns cold and recalcitrant.

If you've only experienced Hilton Head or Kiawah Island off the South Carolina coast, look a little deeper South for an experience more rustic, more authentic and definitely more relaxed - the Private Islands of Georgia's Eagle Island.

Whether you're looking to disappear with someone special or with a group of friends, this secluded 10-acre getaway is a find. Getaways can be customized.

Accessible only by boat, guests enjoy the spectacular Georgia salt marsh eco system, offshore/inshore fishing, blue crabbing, coastal cruises or full moon weekends in complete privacy. A 10-foot wraparound screened porch with hot tub and an outdoor fire pit are perfect for idling.

For those who can't leave their technology behind, there is WiFi and Direct TV. Rates start at $400 per couple per night. Round-trip boat transportation is provided with each visit.

Get owner Capt. Andy Hill to put on a low country boil for the end to a long and perfect autumn day on the coast. Wild Georgia shrimp, Andouille sausage, carrots, potatoes and corn make for some good Southern eating. Serve with deep dish corn bread and a few cold bottles of Reisling.

Low country boil is a fantastic fall meal

Low Country Boil

You don't have to be in the low country to enjoy this seasonal Southern shore specialty.

Note - outdoor gas cookers are typically used. A large pot on the range can also be used when outdoor gas cookers are not available. 

Fill a large pot with water. Leave enough room in the pot to accommodate the food in order to prevent over boiling. Bring water to a boil.

Next, prepare the Private Islands of Georgia Seasoning Blend (recipe below) and add to boiling water.

Note - Old Bay Seasoning can be substituted for the Private Islands of Georgia Seasoning Blend if desired

Private Islands of Georgia SPECIAL Seasoning Blend


2 sticks butter

1 cup black pepper

1/2 cup red pepper

1 cup garlic salt

1/2 cup seasoning salt

1/2 cup celery salt

10 lemons, halved and juiced

10 jalapeno peppers, seeded and thinly sliced

Melt butter in large sauce pan on low to medium heat.

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and stir with wire whisk. Pour contents of mixing bowl into melted butter and stir with wire whisk until well blended.

Pour fresh squeezed lemon juice into pan and stir. Add jalapeno pepper slices and stir. Add mixture to boiling water.

Low Country Boil  Ingredients

Note - other ingredients that can be added to personal taste are rutabagas, sweet potatoes, crabs, crawfish or the 'kitchen sink' - whatever textures and flavors you love

4 pounds shrimp

2 packages Andouille sausage cut into 1" slices - or substitute your favorite brand

8 onions, peeled and halved

16 new potatoes

4 ears of corn, halved

small bag of baby carrots

After adding the Private Islands of Georgia Seasoning Blend to the boiling water, you are now ready to add the remaining ingredients.

The food items are added in order of longest to shortest to cook.

First, add the potatoes and boil 10 minutes. Next, add the carrots, sausage and whole onions. Return to boil. Add corn and return to boil. Then, add the shrimp last. Cook until shrimp are pink in color, approximately 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to overcook the shrimp.

Have on hand extras like cocktail sauce, lemon wedges and don't forget plenty of napkins.

Bacon-wrapped dove breasts

Bacon-wrapped dove breasts  

In our family, the start of dove hunting season kicks off the Labor Day Weekend.  All the licensed hunters head to the fields at noon, hoping to bag a bunch of doves. 

Usually kids join the hunt at about age 11. Their first job: picking up the kill and wringing the necks of birds still alive.

My son wanted to join the dove hunt, so I sent him with my brothers and father. I expected that he would be back at the house in less than an hour, especially since he hates the heat and detests bugs.  Surprisingly, he stayed for the entire day, bounded into the house with his catch and declared the day a blast.

After cleaning the birds, they are bagged and everyone gets to take dove breasts home.  We cooked ours right away using a simple Southern recipe that enhances the meaty game flavor of the bird and keeps it tender and succulent. 

We ate our dove breasts as an entree, but they are so small and delicate, they would make a great appetizer too.

Wrapped and ready for the oven

Bacon Wrapped Dove Breasts


12-oz thin sliced bacon

18-20 dove breasts, rinsed and patted dry

salt & pepper to taste


Wrap each dove breast with a slice of bacon.  Place on a lined baking sheet and broil  (500 degrees F) in the oven for between 10-15 minutes - until bacon is browned and crisp.

Broiled to perfection As an appetizer, serves 9-10.  As an entree, serves 5.

Serve with wild rice or saffron rice.  Pair with a robust red like a Chianti.

Eastern North Carolina pit cooked barbecue

Pulled pork BBQ sandwich featured at Cook's Illustrated Growing up in eastern North Carolina, I cut my teeth on pit cooked barbecue. 

I love a big plate piled high with chopped pork barbecue - tender meat redolent with wood smoke, vinegar and sharp cayenne - and sides of hot, crisp hushpuppies, thick, rich Brunswick stew and cool, creamy coleslaw.

When my Dad and brother cook a pig, they cook the whole behemoth - everything but the squeal.  Cooking a whole pig over coals is a lengthy process, with an average cooking time of between 10 and 12 hours. My Dad and brother used to cook pigs in lined earth pits but later fashioned cookers from metal drums. 

These days barbecue enthusiasts can buy cookers and smokers in a range of price points with every bell and whistle imaginable.  Of course, not every one who wants to cook eastern North Carolina style barbecue will want to cook the whole pig.  A pork shoulder makes some mighty fine barbecue too.

There are two things critical to good barbecue - the sauce and the method of cooking. 

Eastern North Carolina barbecue sauce is simple but piquant, made from apple cider vinegar, crushed red pepper, a pinch of cayenne, a pinch of salt and a dash of tomato sauce.  Some people add a little brown sugar to temper the acid of the vinegar.

The best barbecue is pit cooked, but the reality is that this method isn't always practical. Unless you're planning on a big gathering, cooking a whole pig is obviously impractical.  Good thing the same flavor can be achieved with a gas or charcoal grill and smoked wood chips.

Traditional Eastern NC Barbecue Sauce


1 gallon apple cider vinegar
1 1/3 cup crushed red pepper
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
4 ounces of tomato sauce
1/4 cup salt


Mix the ingredients and let stand for at least 4 hours before use.

Red Velvet Cake perfect recipe for a rainy evening

Find a recipe for red velvet cake here

Yesterday I was feeling like a bit of cake, so I made this Red Velvet Cake. 

I wanted savory with my sweet, so I sprinkled a little Soul of the Sea Haleakala Red salt on top for a pretty natural garnish that added terrific flavor.

While I was savoring this treat last night (and again this morning for breakfast), I started dreaming about re-inventing my Red Velvet Cake.  I've always loved the spicy heat of chiles and chocolate, so I think next time I make this cake I'm going to experiment with increasing the cocoa content and adding a little heat with chiles, maybe some Datil pepper.

But for now I have a whole old-school Red Velvet Cake to consume.  Cake anyone?

Eating, Drinking & Being Mary: St. Augustine

Bad meals are hard to find in St. Augustine, where local innkeepers and restaurateurs have a secret recipe for menus that keep customers coming back for seconds.

The secret is simple.  They use the freshest ingredients, set the table for relaxed dining, and dream up  inventive new takes on traditional favorites. 

And although the city is the oldest in the United States, dating to the 1565 Spanish settlement of Florida, there's nothing old and stuffy about dining here. The city's eclectic restaurant scene fits a wide range of tastes and budgets with menus that do a deft dance between the simple and the sophisticated. 

Steeped in Spanish heritage, the city's restaurants and inns offer menus that are flavored by Southern tradition as well as the multi-ethnic influences of its global citizens.  All ports seem to lead to St. Augustine where no two meals are alike in this city that savors its creature comforts. 

When in St. Augustine, prepare to pace yourself or put on the pounds.  From breakfast to dinner, there is a savory or a sweet to satisfy even the pickiest eater.

The Inn on Charlotte (52 Charlotte St., 904-829-3819)

Savory sage quiche

The gourmet two-course breakfast is reason enough to book one of the Inn's 8 well-appointed guest rooms. A sumptuous and delicious start to the day, the breakfast, which features a fruit course and an entree, is worth its weight in calories.  Not to fret if there are dietary concerns, inn owner Lynne Fairfield will see that guests are accommodated.

"I did a lot of entertaining," said Fairfield, who considers it a huge compliment when people treat the Inn like a second home.  "I like to take regular food and jazz it up, make it something special."

Fairfield, a hotel executive for years, has a flair for entertaining and it shows in her menus and her attention to the smallest details of guest comfort.  Her innkeeper, Chris West, and assistant innkeeper, Rae Ann Couts, are like a small, silent and energetic army.  Meals appear effortlessly,  beautifully executed and plated on lovely traditional dinnerware. 

A Typical  Breakfast at Inn on Charlotte

  • Fresh cantaloupe dressed with yogurt
  • Savory sage sausage & Granny Smith apple quiche
  • Tomato & grated cheddar salad
  • Orange juice, coffee & tea

St. Augustine bouillabaisse & aioli crouton

Bistro de Leon (12 Cathedral Place, 904-810-2100) 

Fifth generation Lyonnaise chef-restaurateur Jean-Stephane Poinard and his wife, Valerie, are living examples of the French term: joie de vivre.  They are passionate about cuisine and its integral part in daily life.  The newly opened Bistro de Leon, the Paul Bocuse-mentored chef's sixth restaurant but first U.S. venture, is anchored in la cuisine des nos meres or mother's comfort food. It is both classic and contemporary, relying on the French chef's ingenuity and the very freshest of locally grown ingredients.

Poinard, who is a member of the elite Les Toques Blanches Lyonnaises, offers a daily prix fixe menu of three courses for $22. The Bistro is open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner, baking its bread fresh daily on premises.  Entrees start at $15.95.

"Food is so sensual," the chef said.  "You feel so good after a great meal."

An Exceptional Bread Pairing Experience

  • Traditional French baguette paired with a delicate Asparagus cream soup.
  • Savory Bacon bread served with a tomato stuffed with escargots flamed in absinthe with a garlic reduction
  • Provencal black olive bread served with St. Augustine bouillabaisse & aioli crouton
  • Walnut bread served with honeyed Brie wrapped in phyllo crust
  • Richly decadent dark chocolate Molten Lava cake served with homemade ice cream or sorbet

Wife, Valerie, former Maitre de Chais for her family's winery in Domaine De la Fond-Moiroux, known for its superb Beaujolais, Brouilly and Gamay wines, brings her expert knowledge of wines to the Bistro, and is an essential ingredient herself in the smooth daily operations.

An Old-Fashioned Picnic for a Birthday Bash


If you are a Southern woman and of a certain age, you are expected to know at least two culinary arts: how to fry chicken and how to make biscuits.

This is the barest allowable minimum for membership in the good old girl club. 

As a child, I spent many hours in the kitchen.  It was and still is the center of my universe.  I learned how to cook watching my mother and grandmother making wholesome and nutritious every day meals as well as the breads and baked goods, the jams, jellies and pickles that were a staple of our Southern home.  As a child of the Depression, my mother was economical out of habit but she also was creative and loved tilling the soil in her small garden.  She produced the usual -- beautiful beefsteak tomatoes, okra, string beans, butter beans and more, but also the unusual --  asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, Swiss chard -- veggies that seemed rare to us then.

From my mother I learned how to fry chicken and make pan gravy.  I also learned how to make biscuits that will melt in your mouth, if I do say so myself.  The women in my family taught me how to make preserves and jellies, how to bake loaf bread, and how to can and freeze vegetables.  More than that, they taught me to be resourceful, to waste not, and to cook once but make food with options -- dishes or basic ingredients that could be put up for another day.

When I was planning my son's birthday, I wanted to have a highly portable meal since we would be partying in Prospect Park.  I was craving something old-fashioned and something from home.  Though I've lived in Brooklyn 15 years, there are days when I miss my North Carolina home so much it makes my heart hurt.

What easier and better meal is there than fried chicken, deviled eggs, a big green salad and watermelon for dessert?  Of course, I made things slightly more complicated by baking a chocolate chip cookie cake and a flourless chocolate cake for the birthday revelry, but that's part of the fun.  And, yes, I was frying chicken for nearly 3 hours, but that's only because I had to fry roughly 60 pieces of chicken.  I did mention I have a super small kitchen.

This fried chicken recipe was too easy, got raves at the picnic, and was truly finger-licking good.

Southern Fried Chicken

1 whole fryer, cut up

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 Tbs herbs of Provence

salt & pepper to taste

juice of one lemon

1 cup flour

1/2 cup of milk

1 egg

Rinse clean the chicken parts with cold water, then pat dry with a paper towel. Place in a shallow glass dish with cover.  Sprinkle garlic powder, herbs of Provence, salt and pepper over chicken, then turn and do the other side.  Pour lemon juice over chicken, then cover and refrigerate over night.

In a deep pan, pour corn or peanut oil (5-6 cups) and heat to between 360-375 degrees (or until you can just see the oil begin to form tiny heat bubbles)

In a bowl, pour milk and add egg, beat well (if anyone is allergic to egg, you can leave it out without any real difference in taste).  Add chicken pieces coating well, then dredge in flour. Repeat the process and add to the hot oil with tongs.  Fry until the chicken is golden brown, roughly 20 minutes.

Note: You will not get crispy chicken if your oil is not hot enough.

photo courtesy of elected studios