The Good Old Boys Are Cooking

If you’ve watched the first season of House of Cards, you may remember Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) frequenting a back alley barbecue with the best ribs in town.  Washington, D.C. is not known for barbecue – or really for being a typical Southern town – but Myron Mixon, the king of smoking meat, reminded me of a mix of Frank Underwood and his secret barbecue master, Freddy, when I recently attended one of his cooking classes and then read his book – BBQ Rules.

Living in Annapolis, the best barbecue was to be had at Adam’s Ribs.  Here in Hawaii, the closest to the flavor is the huli huli chicken smoked in parking lots, usually for fund raisers.  I’m not a fan of meat or barbecue, but experiencing Myron Mixon was an adventure in taste and tolerance.  Once I overcame my snobbish attitude toward the bad grammar and raunchy jokes, I learned a lot about barbecue and a little about the people who love it.

UnknownThe self-proclaimed king of smoking – meats, that is – Myron Mixon proudly tells his audience he has won over a million dollars in prize money – to pay his mortgage and car payments -including state championships in thirty states from Georgia to Illinois, and has been inducted into the Barbecue Hall of Fame in Kansas City.  His book – BBQ Rules – includes anything you need to know about barbecue, including instructions for building your own pit, to cuts of meat (beef cuts, the whole hog, bird parts – and extras, with recipes for smoked cheese, cornbread, cobbler – even a smoked chocolate cake.  He also includes, with the help of his ghost writer, Kelly Alexander, smatterings of his colorful life.

One recipe that caught my eye was for pork cracklins’ – in Mixon’s words:

“…better than any damn skin you’ll ever have because you can’t buy these out of a bag – that crap you buy out of a bag is jus puffed air and fat.  This right here made with the skin of a hog is the real deal.  We get the skin that cracklings are made from after we get through barbecuing our shoulders, our hams, and even our whole hog.”

images   Charles Lamb would agree, although he phrased it a little differently in his essay, “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig” in the early nineteenth century  (you can read the full essay online here):

“He burnt his fingers, and to cool them he applied them in his booby fashion to his mouth. Some of the crumbs of the scorched skin had come away with his fingers, and for the first time in his life (in the world’s life, indeed, for before him no man had known it) he tasted—crackling!…surrendering himself up to the new-born pleasure, he fell to tearing up whole handfuls of the scorched skin with the flesh next it, and was cramming it down his throat in his beastly fashion…”

Nixon included extra recipes for his cooking class graduates – the basic chicken rub is one I may try:

Recipe for Basic Chicken Rub

  • cup of chile powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 tablespoons onion powder
  • 4 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Marinate the chicken overnight in 4 cups chicken broth and 1 packet dry onion soup mix.  Remove from refrigerator and discard the marinade.  Preheat smoker to 250 degrees.  Apply the rub liberally to the chicken and press firmly.   (In class, Mixon advised us to “push it, push it real good” – just like Salt N Pepa sings.  Place the chicken, breast side up, on a meat rack with the handles down so the bird will be raised above the surface of the pans. Set the rack inside a deep aluminum pan.  Poor 2 cups apple juice into the pan underneath the meat rack.  Place the pan in the smoker and cook for 3 hours or until the breast meat reaches 165 degrees.  Remove the chicken from the smoker and allow it to rest on the rack in its pan for 15 minutes.  Carve and serve (serves four).


Myron Mixon’s “rub” on ribs.

Happy Father’s Day!

Defending Jacob

What if an assistant district attorney had to defend his fourteen year old son in a murder case? Sound like a television Father’s Day drama? That’s just what William Landay delivers in his courtroom crime story – Defending Jacob. Although the characters follow a formulaic stereotype and some of the dialogue is reminiscent of Mickey Spillane, the plot is fast-paced, easy reading, with enough change-ups to keep you reading.

Jacob’s middle schooler life is a mystery to his parents until one of his classmates is found stabbed in the park adjacent to the school. Suddenly, the bullying, the hidden knife, a fingerprint, and Jake’s loner personality implicate him as the murderer. Landay effectively uses two catalysts in the mix: the internet – citing Facebook, Twitter, and iPads as adding to public suspicion; and the “murder gene” – a genetic tendency to violence.

I’ve had this book on my shelf and decided to give it away to make room, but, first had to read it. A quick read – less gruesome than other crime novels – Defending Jacob has some father/son relationship angst and family-in-crisis warts, but, for the most part – just another good legal thriller – scheduled to come out in a movie theater soon with talk of Michael Shannon playing the father.

The ending came as a surprise; don’t stop reading after court adjourns.

My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow

Gwyneth Paltrow’s cookbook, celebrating her father, has the actress on the cover looking healthy, beautiful, bright-eyed – just gorgeous.  Will I look like her if I cook and eat her recipes?

I remembered Paltrow as a vegan, so it was surprising to find that she’s abandoned her bedside conversion to macrobiotics, and found her level with food that is healthy, comforting, and, most of all, enjoyable.  She still avoids meats, especially red, and rationalizes that chicken is fine in moderation, as long as it is free range and organic.  She reminisces about her hot-dog eating father, and includes his famous pancakes, but her famous mother is not ignored.  The recipe for Blythe Danner’s blueberry muffins is included, as well as Paltrow’s “healthier” version – substituting spelt, Grade B maple syrup, and soy milk.  Blythe’s sounded better to me.

Meant as a tribute to her father and film director, Bruce, who died in 2002, Paltrow includes pictures of them together, and one particularly moving shot of them at dinner while on a trip through Italy; he died three days later.  Other pictures frame her cooking with her children, but most of the pictures are what you’d expect in a cookbook – luscious shots of the cooked dishes, tantalizingly ready to eat.  The homemade rotisserie chicken is almost dripping off the page.

On one page, Paltrow creates a chart titled – “If You Haven’t Had Time to Go To the Health Food or Specialty Store” – listing substitutes for the healthier fare, with a column indicating “why {you should} bother” to find the vegenaise instead of Hellman’s mayonnaise, or why turkey bacon is better than pork.  But, she doesn’t have the proselytizing fervor of Alicia Silverstone in The Kind Diet.  Paltrow allows that we all need a hot fudge sundae (with maple nut ice cream?), every now and then.  She even includes a recipe for homemade hot fudge made with heavy cream.

I plan to buy this book; it has a lot to offer: great pictures, comfort foods, easy recipes.  I tried Blythe Danner’s favorite salad dressing, and was happy to find she loves anchovies just like me.

Blend 6 olive-oil packed Spanish anchovies with 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard and 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar until anchovies are completely pureed.  With the motor on, slowly drizzle in 1/2 cup olive oil.  Season with pepper.  Yum!

Chef Mario Batali, Paltrow’s famous road trip partner through Spain, noted in the introduction “that GP can effortlessly down a whole pan of perfect paella…or eat an entire plate of marinated anchovies…”  My only question is – how can she eat all that and still be wafer thin?