Panhandle veterans give tips for staying near the water, far from the kitchen

When Louisiana families pack up and head to the beach for the Fourth of July or later this summer, most of them end up near the western border of the Florida Panhandle. They’re easy to spot; just look for the Louisiana collegiate flags and tents dotting the beach front.

The four-hour drive to sugar sand beaches and aquamarine waters make them a perfect place for summer tailgating. To help stay relaxed, beachgoers have mastered the art of preparing light, tasty food without spending long hours in the kitchen. Some beach-going veterans offer tips for feeding crowds on the sand or in the condo with ease.

Kim Morgan has been traveling to the beach since childhood. Last year, Morgan and her husband, Mark, purchased a condo in Orange Beach, Alabama, so that her children, their spouses and four grandchildren would be able to have a beach place to enjoy closer to home.

“Now we can leave basic provisions at the condo, which cuts down on what we have to bring from Baton Rouge,” she said. Flour, sugar, salt, oils, seasonings and coffee no longer have to be packed in a dry goods storage bin for the trip.

Occasionally, they stop at the Burris Farmer’s Market in Loxley, Alabama, for fresh produce.

“If we have a big group going (to the beach), each family takes turns making dinner one night,” Kim Morgan said.

There is a grill available at their condo.

“We like to grill sliced yellow squash, zucchini and chicken,” Morgan said.

“Shish kabobs are easy, delicious and nutritious. We’ve done a build-your-own version where you set out all the ingredients and everyone makes them they way they like them,” she said.

The chopped meat and vegetables can be prepared the morning of or night before and be ready for assembly when hunger strikes.

“I have a marinade recipe that is good for basting, but bottled marinade would be just as good — to make it easy,” she said.

Make-ahead breakfast casserole and cinnamon rolls are great for mornings that have to be quick so there’s time to coat bathing suit-clad kids with sunscreen before they dart out the door. “We like to go down to the beach and stay,” Morgan said.

Snacks carted down to the beach include self-serve containers of juice, water, apple and cheese slices, yogurt and crackers.

“We’ll each pack a sandwich and will have that to eat later. My favorite is a turkey and provolone on wheat bread and a couple of sea salt vinegar chips tucked in.”

Morgan recently prepared raspberry chutney and cheese quesadillas for her crew and they proved to be a big hit.

She also says her adult guests enjoy a cocktail every now and then, especially one made with rum.

“We think we’ve perfected The Bushwacker. We add whipped cream and a cherry on top; it’s really like a dessert,” she said.

Christa Wilborn and her husband, Gerald, have owned a condo in Gulf Shores, Alabama, for about 13 years, where they have spent many family vacations.

They frequently rent their unit to others, so keeping her cabinet organized with staples and spices is a must. Wilborn said that the key to fun eating at the beach is planning.

“You don’t want to spend your days in the kitchen when you’re at the beach,” she said.

Since the early days of their 35-year marriage, whether at home or at the beach, the couple has planned their meals for the week.

For dinners, Wilborn said, they like to do casseroles or easy buffet meals. Spaghetti, shrimp boils and Chicken Crunch casserole are mainstays.

A trip to Joe Patti’s Seafood, a well-known wholesale seafood market in Pensacola, Florida, provides all the fresh fish and shrimp for the week.

“We really like the royal reds (shrimp) from Joe Patti’s. We just use the crab boil to boil them.

Adding fresh lemon slices is good, and putting in a very small amount of olive oil in the water makes them easier to peel. They are good cold and can be taken to the beach in a cooler with cocktail sauce,” she explained.

Gerald Wilborn’s waffles and buttermilk biscuits, topped with homemade jellies, are always favorite breakfasts for family and guests.

Gwen Cotton is another Baton Rouge resident who has spent many years on the beach.

“My family is from Bay St. Louis (Mississippi) and we used to go to Grand Isle all the time,” she said.

Cotton and her husband, Matt, purchased an Orange Beach condo last year and have enjoyed many meals there.

The Cottons will bring Matt’s fresh-caught fish from Baton Rouge or make a stop at Joe Patti’s for fish or other seafood.

“We do fish open-face on the grill with the scales and then add seasonings. It’s delicious,” She said.

Matt Cotton agrees: “If you’re not baking redfish, this is the preferred way to cook it.”

Gwen Cotton’s favorite side dish is homemade baked sweet potato fries. She seasons them with salt, pepper, garlic powder and a drizzle of olive oil and roasts them in the oven.

Cotton is also a fan of salads, one of her favorites being a grilled chicken and pear salad. “It’s something cool to eat when it’s hot outside,” she said.

Cotton’s youngest son Jacob is usually in charge of grilling hamburgers for the family.

“He’s in charge of that one of the nights when he is with us. We place our order, and he’s ready to go,” she said.

The beach chefs all advise when cooking at the beach to take as many shortcuts as possible. Using rotisserie chicken, prepackaged seasoning mixes, marinades or sauces make cooking more enjoyable for everyone.