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Recipe: Mardi Gras King Cake

King Cakes are a vital part of history of the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition. The King Cake is baked with a small plastic baby hidden inside, the person who gets the slice with baby in it has to host the next party. Make sure to buy a new small plastic baby so you can get the full effect from this cake! Sprinkle with purple, green and gold sugar, or decorate with whole pecans and candied cherries.
Note: Be sure to tell everyone to inspect their piece of cake before they begin eating it. To be extra careful, use a plastic toy baby that is too large to swallow, or hide an orange wedge or 3-4 pecan halves inside the cake (avoid items that may hurt someone’s teeth) and then simply place the honorable toy baby outside on the top of the cake for all to see and adore!

Mardi gras king cake


1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
2 packages active dry yeast
2/3 cup warm water
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2/3 cup pecans, chopped
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
1 tablespoon to 2 water
2 smalls plastic dolls (from party supply store)
green sugar
yellow sugar>
purple sugar


1. Scald the milk, then remove from heat and stir in the butter. cool the mixture until it reaches room temperature.
2. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water with 1 tablespoon of the white sugar. Let stand until creamy, approximately 10 minutes.
3. When the yeast mixture is bubbling, add the cooled milk mixture. Whisk in the eggs. Stir in the remaining white sugar, salt, and nutmeg. Beat the flour in, adding 1 cup at a time.
4. Once the dough has formed, put it on a lightly floured surface and kneed until smooth and elastic, approximately 8 to 10 minutes.
5. Lightly oil a large bowl. Put the dough in the bowl and turn it to coat the dough with oil. Cover the dough with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, approximately 2 hours. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide it in half.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 2 cookie sheets, or line them with parchment paper.
7. Make the filling: combine brown sugar, ground cinnamon, chopped pecans, 1/2 cup flour, and 1/2 cup raisins. Pour the 1/2 cup of melted butter over the mixture and mix until crumbly.
8. Roll out the dough halves into large rectangles (approximately 10 x 6 inches). Sprinkle the filling over the dough and roll the dough up like a jelly roll, beginning at the wide side. Bring the ends of each roll together to form two oval shaped rings. Put each dough ring on a prepared cookie sheet. Use scissors to make cuts 1/3 of the way through the rings at 1 inch intervals. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, approximately 45 minutes.
9. Bake the rings in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Remove cakes from oven and press a plastic baby doll into the bottom of each cake.
10. Mix the confectioners sugar with 1 to 2 tablespoons of water and frost the cakes while warm. Decorate with green, yellow, and purple colored sugars.

Recipe: Gulf Shrimp Ceviche

As a young man growing up in Key West Florida, I was exposed to a variety of fantastically flavorful ethnic dishes from an early age. Dishes that I would, over the years, constantly try to recreate or infuse into new ideas. South Florida in general is home to a diverse multi-cultural landscape of people, rich in tradition and passionate about the foods of their homeland. The bounty of both fresh produce and super fresh seafood readily available in Florida at any given time gives chefs the opportunity to come up with almost limitless inspiration and flavor combinations. Bahamian Conch Ceviche, Cuban Ropa Vieja, Puerto Rican plantain mofongo, Hatian Oxtail stew, these are all dishes that take me back to my childhood. One preparation always stood out for me, especially because I tend to go for fresh and spicy, flavor packed foods with a simplistic approach…seafood in particular, it was Ceviche. Fish, Shrimp, Conch, whatever…I LOVED ceviche.

Long before I ever dreamed that I would end up being a chef, I had the good fortune to eat many, many times at a little place called Louie’s Backyard in Old Town Key West. You see, my mother was a huge foodie and luckily for me, introduced me to all kinds of strange and exotic foods from an early age. The owners of Louie’s had recently brought in a young chef named Norman Van Aken, who would soon blaze a trail for what would one day become known as “New World Cuisine”, he was and still is the father of it…a new world Escoffier of sorts…Norman is obviously a culinary genius, few would argue that.

I used to love the irreverent cooking style and seemingly bizarre, yet playful flavors Norman created and there was definitely a buzz going around about his cooking from very early on. After finishing culinary school, I sought Norman out at his restaurant in Coral Gables and hung around until I was able to work my way into the kitchen, it was a brief time that would change my perception of what food could really be and how far an idea could be taken. Hopefully Norman knows what an incredible impact he has made on so many young chefs, including me…I doubt I could ever really fully thank him in a way that sounds as good as it does in my mind but, thank you Norman.

Now,  looking back on a successful career as a professional chef for the last 15 years, I have begun to seek out the flavors that remind me of my childhood. Afterall, isn’t that one of the great things about food? The fact that one bite can transport you back to a certain time and place…remind you of good times or bad, connect you with a family memory or simply remind you of sunday dinners at grandma’s house. Food connects us with our roots in a way that few other things in life can and I think that any great cook, at any given time, draws inspiration from or strives to re-create dishes that remind them of something dear to them.

My take on a wonderful recipe by Chef Rick Bayless– Chef of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo in Chicago, creator of  Frontera Gourmet foods, cookbook author and host of “Mexico One Plate at a Time“. This recipe is from his cook book “Mexico One Plate at a Time.” A must-try!

  • ½ cup plus 2 Tbs fresh lime juice
  • 1 generous pound unpeeled, smallish shrimp
  • ½ medium white onion, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped into ¼ inch pieces
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • 1-2 Tbs vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
  • About 2 Tbs olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
  • 1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or  ½ cup of each)
  • 1 small avocado, peeled, pitted, and cubed
  • Salt
  • Several lime slices for garnish
  • Tostadas or tortilla chips for serving


  1. To cook the shrimp, bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 Tbs of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to a boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes. Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Peel and devein shrimp. Toss the shrimp with remaining ½ cup lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.
  2. In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid. Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jicama and avocado. Taste and season with salt. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.
  3. Serving: spoon ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls. Garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime. Serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.


Shrimp Ceviche

Shrimp Ceviche

Shrimp Ceviche

Shrimp Ceviche

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Things you should probably never, ever eat vol. 1


I recently came across a container of fermented soybeans in the supermarket. I don’t mean an old container of soybeans some stock-boy forgot to toss. These are fermented-on-purpose soybeans from Japan. That’s what Natto is.



I remembered hearing about this stuff on Iron Chef one time when it was the secret ingredient. The judges in the show were commenting on what a great job the chefs had done to “suppress the smell” of the natto. Now, I’m no Iron Chef, but I’ve got a clever way to suppress the smell… Don’t put it in your food. I might not win “Battle Natto”, but I promise you my dinner won’t smell like 26 year old sun baked french cheese either.

I found it slightly unsettling that the sealed styrofoam container had creepy little air-holes in it. As if what was inside needed to breathe. I dared to lift the lid, which made me regret that I needed to breathe. The natto was coated in some kind of sick slime and had the complex yet playful aroma of a dumpster in July.

Actually, the little pile inside looked kinda like baked beans. It also smelled kinda like baked beans…if they were baked in the blistering heat of a dog turd on a hot summer day.

This particular batch was made by a company in Japan called Shirakiku. I haven’t been able to determine if Shirakiku is a food manufacturer, or just a store that sells gag gifts and practical jokes. It might be both.

Not unlike most of the cast of any version of desperate housewives, these harmless soybeans had undergone some kind of hideous transformation which were now a freakish version of their former selves. (Which, coincidentally, should also be kept far away from your childrens’ eyes.)

The most disturbing aspect of this stuff is it seems to get “activated” when you stir it. What I mean by this is, (and I may actually weep, but…) the slimy coating on the beans develops into stringy, stretchy, marshmallow-like strands that will forever haunt my dreams.

Basically, if you move it back and forth enough, you’re left with a gross, sticky mess.  And now that I think about it,  it looks like the pranksters back at Shirakiku did something really gross into my beans. You guuuys!

activating the natto

I force-fed myself a big ol’ spoonful, and found it to be slightly rancid and extremely bitter. Unfortunately, swallowing didn’t help dissipate the flavor because the strings of bean schmootz melted, coating my mouth and lips with a glistening sheen of extreme sadness.

The entire experience is difficult to describe, but if you can remember back to the very first time you made out with a hobo’s ass, it’s probably a lot like that.

What I find most hilarious is that there is an expiration date on the package. What could they possibly expect to happen to the product on this date THAT HAS NOT ALREADY OCCURRED?!!!

Also, nestled in this mound of compost was a li’l packet of mustard. In its place, I would strongly suggest a hand written apology.

I do have one last theory about the date on the package. It may be an expiration date, but not for the beans. If you finish the container, that’s the day you die.