I wish they all could be a Crackings experience

Lobster Gouda Grits at Crackings in Destin, FL
(Photo by Monica Johnson from KODAK Digital Still Camera)

I came. I ate. I was more than satisfied. In fact, everybody I came and ate with was satisfied as well. Now, we did have some expert advice about where to go for breakfast in Destin, Florida. MCCN editor, Crystal Johnson had been to this destination before, but it’s nothing like experiencing something for yourself. And yes, she was absolutely right…Crackings was definitely an awesome breakfast experience.

The restaurant does serve other meals like brunch and lunch, but we came for breakfast and it did not disappoint. The menu had items like Lobster Gouda Grits…oh my goodness; Croisseignets, an out of this world cross between a croissant and a beignet; Banana Foster, which is your choice of pancakes, waffles or French Toast, made from scratch with brown sugar banana liquor butter cream sauce, fresh bananas, topped with powdered sugar, pecans, and whipped cream. The Banana Foster is an event unto itself.

I don’t know if I’ll get back to Destin Florida anytime soon, but if the good Lord allows it, I’ve already decided that I want to try the Fish & Grits for my next visit. But truthfully, there are so many other delectable dishes on their menu. It serves up fantastic options for experiencing the gulf’s phenomenal seafood. I don’t think you can go wrong! When in Destin, I know that at some point, I’m definitely going to breakfast at Crackings.

Crackings has two locations in Florida (Destin and Santa Rosa).


Missing NYC’s Zeppole

(Photo Credit: Antonio Rubio, Flickr)

If you go to any kind of fair or outside event, you are more than likely going to run into a vendor selling fried dough. A lot of times that fried dough is in the form of funnel cakes. Oh how I love funnel cakes, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my first love of fried dough. And my first love was for zeppole.

What’s that? You’ve never heard of zeppole? Well, if you’re not from New York or New Jersey it’s probably not as familiar to you. I can speak as someone who grew up in NYC, and it definitely had (and still has) a huge presence of Italian culture and cuisine. Zeppole originates from Italy, and thank God for every Italian mom, grandma and auntie who brought the recipe over to the United States.

Sadly, living south of NYC, I haven’t been able to find a restaurant that offers zeppole. But recently I did a little foodie fact-finding on a Facebook foodie group. I was delightfully surprised to discover that there is a place—not terribly close, but foodies will travel.

Powdered sugar sprinkled generously on Zeppole
(Photo Credit: Jeff Amador, Flickr)

I first experienced these semi-rounded, crispy, airy treats at my family’s favorite Italian pizzeria at the City Line in Brooklyn. When I was a kid, I would go to the pizza shop and get a slice, but if I had a little extra change, I would get the greasy white bag with ten golf ball sized pieces of golden fried goodness made right there on the spot. And I wasn’t going anywhere until my bag of zeppole was oozing with powdered sugar. The powdered sugar is a must so you can lick your fingers. There’s no place for couth when you’re getting down with the zeppole.

According to Olga’s Flavor Factory, zeppole, also referred to as an Italian doughnuts are made with pâte à choux dough. This kind of dough has no raising agent and only contains butter, water, sugar, salt, flour and eggs. However, there are some recipes that do use yeast dough. See the recipe below to learn how to make these tasty treats with yeast dough, and check out Olga’s Flavor Factory’s recipe for Zeppole made with pâte à choux dough.

Here’s a challenge to you MCCN readers. Make both of the recipes and let us know which one came out better.

Sub and Sandwich Adventures

Reuben sandwich from Showtime Deli

Guest foodie contributors, Pig & Panda, made their way to Lexington Park, in southern Maryland, to experience Showtime Deli. The cinema-themed delicatessen looks like a lot of fun from its life-sized images of The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars to the cool memorabilia on the wall. A cinephile foodie would probably lose their mind! But honestly, who cares about all of that if the food isn’t right? And fortunately it is more than just right…it’s good eating according to Pig & Panda.

A well-made sub or sandwich is something that’s very personal to a foodie. Seriously, the analyzing can go on and on. What kind of bread are you using? Tomato or no tomatoes? Don’t be skimpy on that meat! You know how it is when you make your own sandwich, let alone when somebody else is doing it. So sit back, relax, and take a food adventure with Pig & Panda. These two will guide you through cold cut subs, cheesesteaks, Ruebens, and a lot more fantastic foot-longs.

Pig and Pandas Food Adventures
Pig & Panda’s social media pages:

YouTube: Pig & Panda’s Food Adventures

Instagram (PigandPandasFoodAdventures)

Facebook (Pig and Pandas Food Adventures)

MCCN would like to thank Pig & Panda!

Cooking Oils Makes It Better!

Chinese Chili Ol (Photo Credit: Branch, Flickr)

Want to go to Flavor town? One of the easiest ways is by using cooking oil. Yes, we know about corn oil and vegetable oil and even the flavorful olive oil, but there are other oils to add to our bag of tricks. I currently have no less than three oils in my cabinet right now, and that’s only because cabinet space is limited.

Oils just make everything better! My personal opinion is because it coats your food more intimately than what you shake on as flakes or granules. So let’s go ahead and take a look at some of the oils that will enhance your tasting experience.

Chili oil

Chili oil is a condiment that can be described as vegetable oil (often soybean, sesame and sometimes olive oil) infused with hot chili peppers. Chili oil is often used in Asian cultures, particularly in Chinese Sichuan and Hunan dishes. Korean culture also uses chili oil in jjampong, which is a Korean noodle soup.

Jjampong is a popular Korean noodle soup loaded with lots of seafood. (Photo Credit: Eunike Gloria, Flickr)

Although, widely used in Asian cultures, Europeans also have their versions of chili oil as well. Take the Italians, for instance! Their version is called olio di peperoncino. and originates from Calabria, which is in the southwest area of Italy. Oilio di peperoncino is used in bruschetta, on pizza and in pasta dishes as well. Oh, the mouth watering of it all! In an article by Heidy Linn McCallum, she also recommends it as a dipping sauce for crunchy bread and for wings.

Sesame Oil

You might have guessed it but let’s reconfirm your instinct. Yes, sesame oil is a vegetable oil that derives from sesame seeds. It’s one of my favorites because of its earthy, nutty taste. It also smells magnificent! Sesame oil has a high smoke point and many times the pale yellow variety is used for frying. There are many different hues for sesame seeds from the pale yellow to golden to amber.

Rayu on udon noodles (Photo Credit: Osamu Ito, Flickr)

You will find sesame oil being used by East Indians, Chinese, and the Japanese make a paste called rayu, which is made from a chili-sesame oil and used for a topping on various foods like rice and ramen. It can also be added to soup or for seasoning shrimp, fish and other kinds of dishes.

You may be surprised to learn that the biggest market for sesame oil is in Tanzania. The African country is the largest producer of sesame oil and is also the largest consumer of the product.

Almond Oil
Soera20, Flickr

Although this might be one of your favorite aromatherapy options, almond oil is also good for low-heat baking. It adds a sweet nutty taste to your cakes, cookies and other confections. Another way you can use almond oil is on your salads. It has a mild taste and can be used in a variety of ways.

Another great benefit of the oil, is the amazing effect it has on your skin, hair and nails. Almond oil is a rich source of Vitamin E and antioxidants.

Other Options

Of course, there are other oils to check out like coconut oil, palm oil, and grapeseed oil and the O. G. Multi Cultural Cooking Network blog has a very extensive article called. “Know Your Cooking Oils,” which is a great resource. Also, check out your local international stores, halal markets or the international aisle in your local grocery store to see what kind of oils you can find to enrich your cooking and eating experience.

This is It BBQ and Seafood, Decatur GA

This Is It! BBQ and Seafood, Decatur GA (Photo Credit: Monica Johnson)

It’s fun to run into places you weren’t expecting. It happens a lot on road trips unless your wedded to Micky D’s or the king of burgers. While on a recent trip traveling north from the Deep South, my sister and I went in search for some victuals. And we were excited to find a restaurant that is no stranger to those in Georgia, or to anyone who may watch Diners, Drive-in & Dives. The restaurant was called This Is It BBQ and Seafood.

The ego on these people, right? This is It! You know, like there’s no other place…don’t waste your time. Well, after having their catfish, black eyed-peas and sweet-potato casserole, I’m going to give it to them because this was it! It was a soul food bonanza with errrthing you want from a soul food restaurant. And when my catfish was ordered, they did not just take it off a pile of catfish, they said that they always make their catfish fresh upon ordering.

I’m looking forward to another trek down south maybe to try their ribs and macaroni and cheese. Then again, the catfish was really good so I could definitely get that again but the smothered turkey chops do really sound delightful! And they get their soul food cred’ right off the top, just for including chitterlings on their menu. All I know is that my return trip needs to happen and soon because I have plans for these taste buds!

This is It BBQ is a black-owned franchise of restaurants, which was founded by husband and wife team, Butch and Barbara Anthony in 1983. There are currently nine locations throughout Georgia and they also have a location in Fayettesville, NC. For more information, visit the This Is It BBQ & Seafood website.

Make a Light and Refreshing Persian Shirazi Salad

No lettuce? No problem. Especially if you’re making a Persian Shirazi salad. This salad is made with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions along with a few herbs and spices and a citrus dressing (often lemon or lime juice). Talk about a summer treat!

The salad gets its name from its place of origin, Shiraz, a city located in the southern region of modern-day Iran. See the recipe’s ingredients below.


3 to 4 Persian cucumbers (about 3/4 pound)
½ red onion, diced into 1/4-inch pieces
2 tablespoons any combination of finely chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, basil or dill
1 teaspoon dried mint
2 to 3 medium tomatoes (about 1 pound)
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes), plus more as needed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For recipe instructions, visit Cooking.nytimes.com.

Do You Agree with the Top 10 International Cuisines?

If you think the Olympics is something that inspires pride in one’s country, a country/culture’s food lifts pride to an altogether different level. Typically, we have grown up with our culture’s food whether we are American, Caribbean, Italian Indian or Japanese. And we have also had our favorite dishes within our country/culture. That’s why when I stumbled upon a list of the Top 10 International Cuisines, it made me chuckle within myself because a lot of us are not going to be happy.

This list was very democratic. It’s based on the votes received and it even explains what kind of food you will find in the culture. But here’s a spoiler alert to Americans, we don’t even get in the extended top 41 list. Go ahead and expand from the top 10… our lobster rolls, chocolate chip cookies, buffalo wings and sweet potato pie were not enough to make the cut.

However, that’s not the end of the story. The great thing is if your favorite cuisine is not listed, you can add to the list. If you want to move your culture up a notch, go ahead and cast your vote. At the time this article is being posted, here is a partial listing of the top 5 international cuisines from ListWoo.com’s top 10 listing.

Top 5 International Cuisines (from ListWoo.com)
  1. Indian
  2. Italian
  3. Japanese
  4. Chinese
  5. French

Personally, I would have added Caribbean food somewhere in that top 5 but it’s ranking at number 22 right now. I guess I’ll have to send my absentee ballot or I won’t be represented. See the rest of the Top 10 International Cuisines list on ListWoo.com.

A Hot Summer’s Day and a Cold Snowball Treat

Sensational Snowballs, 8101 Loch Raven Blvd, Towson 21286

According to VisitMaryland.org, “Snowballs started out as a Baltimore tradition in the 1800s, and during the Great Depression, were known as ‘penny sundaes’ or ‘hard-time sundaes,’ but now you can find them throughout the central region and scattered across the state.”

If you live in Baltimore or the surrounding area, you probably have your favorite spot to indulge in for your customized icy creation. My current choice is Sensational Snowball, located in Towson, MD. They understand what I want from my summertime treat. I want enough flavored-syrup to cover all of the ice in my cup. There’s nothing worst than getting through the lower parts of your snowball and finding no syrup. No bueno!

Then there’s the choice of marshmallow or plain. I’ve even seen people put ice cream in between layers of the crushed ice. Now that’s living on the wild side! It’s a world of pleasure! On a hot summer’s day, make sure to get your cold snowball treat.

Hometown Food in Laurel, Mississippi

Hog Heaven BBQ

If ratings are any indicator, it seems that America is in love with Laurel, Mississippi, the location of HGTV’s show, Hometown. Now the show has nothing to do with food but I took it as a culinary adventure when I was invited to visit from a family member who recently moved there for an assignment. Although it was not part of my itinerary for the summer, I did love so much about laidback Laurel.

Everyone I met was so friendly…like that extra-mile friendly. Then there were the quirky and lovely historic houses as well as the beautiful lush leaning trees. And I’d be lying if told you I wasn’t in it for a little slice of southern cooking. I was not disappointed.

Sweet Somethings Bakery

The first place I went was to a little bakery in downtown Laurel called Sweet Somethings Bakery. With that name, they are winning already in my book but I digress. It’s always a cool little perk, when you can see bakers doing their thing right in front of your eyes. The bakery has all kinds of goodies from sweet rolls and pecan pies to almond croissants and Heath Bar cookies. I didn’t see any fancied-up coffee but they keep a good-old coffee machine for coffee that is ready to serve.

Bird Dog Cafe

Now, this may be a shocker but I had never heard of ‘Hometown’ until a few weeks before coming to Laurel, Mississippi. But once I was informed, I put watching the show on my to-do list. Unfortunately, that to-do list didn’t get realized until I was already there, and after I had dined at one of the spots, that ‘Hometown’ made over. That spot is Bird Dog Cafe, and it opened in August of 2020. Yes, it was a pandemic-opener but it has quickly become one of the hot spots in town.

I don’t think I’d be out of step to say that it’s an enchanting little spot that grabs your attention from the road with its dark reddish brown exterior and rustic American decor. The inside is just as welcoming with a mishmash of tables that make you feel like you’re sitting in grandma’s kitchen with an eclectic makeover.

Enough about the decor, we’ve got some food to talk about! So let’s get to it with the first thing I sampled…the roasted pepper deviled eggs with candied peppers and bits of bacon. I liked it pretty well, especially candied pepper, eaten in conjunction with the deviled egg has a bit of kick…maybe keep the water nearby.

Roasted Red Pepper Deviled Eggs at Bird Dog Cafe, Laurel MS

For the main course I had one of the specials—the red fish. The spice was king on this fish dish. My buds—taste buds that is—were having a. good time. It was perfectly seasoned for me, and I especially loved that kick of pepper that followed each bite. It was served with yummy mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley that had me trying to figure out how to replicate it once I got back to my home. I was especially elated because, as I have explained in another article, the way restaurants cook fish can be so hit or miss, but I’m so glad when it’s a hit.

Red Fish special at Bird Dog Cafe, Laurel, MS
The Smokehouse of Laurel

My carry-out day brought me in touch with a very distinctive restaurant called The Smokehouse of Laurel. You won’t pass by this place without a second glance. A big pig beckons you. I went through the drive-thru and ordered a two-meat and two-side special. I picked smoked chicken and an order of brisket for the meat, and the mashed potato casserole and mac and cheese for the sides. (Don’t judge me I was on vacation!) I could’ve had some more of those sides because somebody knew what they were doing in the kitchen. Just take a look at the picture. It tastes THAT good.

I also enjoyed the smoked chicken quite a bit. It was tender and tasty. If I’m being honest, which I have to be, the brisket was okay. The reason I say that it was okay is because it was a bit dry. I’m told on good authority, that the brisket is usually fantastic so I’ll chalk it up to a rare miss. After all, they can’t all be home runs! However, I did eat it all, they me supplied with barbecue sauce and I definitely made it work.

Oh and the meal was very reasonably priced too!

Smoked chicken, brisket, mashed potato casserole and macaroni and cheese at The Smokehouse of Laurel.

I had a fine time in Laurel and I even have a few more places that I want to hit. I’m told Garcia’s Doughnuts are delightful. I’m looking to experience their much touted honeybun. Pearl’s Diner has also been featured on Hometown as well and it appears that the restaurant is doing something right because it had a line outside the door when I passed by. Prayerfully, I can get to both next time, but until then thanks for the good eats Laurel.

Cravings for Butter Chicken

Cravings are a funny thing

I’ve been craving for something I’ve never had but I’ve heard a lot about it. It’s nothing new, in fact, it’s a very popular Indian dish dating back to the 1940’s. But you know how it goes…once you get something in your head, the cravings are on! It’s sheer curiosity, and I’ve fallen prey. It has to be the name. It’s like a sweet melodic tune. Say it with me, and close your eyes while saying it…butter…chicken.

Surely, it’s conjured up some image in your mind even if you don’t know what it is. So I decided, why not ditch the normal Memorial Day beans and burgers in favor of something new. After all, it is “new” to me.

Butter Chicken is also referred to as murgh makhani. The chicken curry dish is a mix of chicken in a spiced tomato, butter and cream sauce. You can also substitute the butter for ghee to avoid a heavy bloated feeling afterward. The dish is similar to chicken tikka masala, which uses a tomato gravy.

I got my order of butter chicken from Cafe Spice, a restaurant in Cockeysville, MD that serves an authentic and varied selection of Indian cuisine. The butter chicken was served over basmati rice and everything about it was worth the price of admission. Admission to “where?” you ask. Admission to Yummytown. The chicken was extremely tender, and the sauce was flavorful and seamless.

Get the recipe and learn more about butter chicken below on the Cafe Delites website.

Knowing is half of the battle

Make no mistake this is a decadent dish. It’s high in fat. According to Livestrong.com, when using butter and cream in the recipe, a 4-5 oz. serving (with no substitutes like ghee or 2% milk) will averageabout 438 calories and 28 grams of fat.

The pros in this scenario are pretty good. Never let it be said that butter chicken is not without its benefits. It’s very high in protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. So make your daily dietary plans wisely when deciding to partake in this meal. Trust me, it will be worth it.

Photo Credits: Monica Johnson (Multi Cultural Cooking Network)