My grandparents had a simple recipe for family cookouts: Serve lots of food mixed with lots of laughter, with as many family members and friends around the table as possible.
I can never recall a time when we ran out of food, or things to laugh about, or when family or friends were not welcomed with open arms.
If you polled my family about those golden days, Granddaddy's Cameen chicken would top the favorite foods list -- a crispy, succulent, bursting-with-flavor fried chicken that smelled as good as it tasted. The secret to his culinary tour de force was the marinade he concocted.
Lots of fresh crushed garlic, cider vinegar, salt, pepper, and the key ingredient -- an aromatic herb he called cameen.
The chicken was marinated in this brew overnight in a big brown earthenware crock. The next day, wearing a frayed straw hat and a smile, Granddaddy deep-fried the pieces to a golden brown in a black cast iron Dutch oven.
Years later, I decided to try to re-create his famous fried chicken recipe, but I couldn't find the key ingredient anywhere -- no one had ever heard of cameen.
I called my Uncle Skip for help, and he explained the whole thing to me over a good laugh.
The spice Granddaddy used was actually cumin! Cameen was just his unique way of pronouncing the fragrant herb.
Uncle Skip also recalled that Granddaddy roasted the cumin seeds, then crushed them in half of a coconut shell before adding them to the marinade.
My grandfather had a priceless way of saying and doing things.
Take his barbecue grill.
He dug a shallow pit in the yard, stacked some cinder blocks around it for the sides, and plopped what was left of an old screen door on the top.
Over a wood fire, and under his watchful eye, chicken, ribs and garden-fresh corn in the husks were grilled to golden-brown perfection.
I have never been very good with a grill. My contribution to family cookouts is salads.
Potato salad and coleslaw are my specialties. It's my brother, Sam, who inherited Granddaddy's outdoor cooking genius, but he has moved way beyond those screen-door grill days.
He swears by a ceramic grill and smoker called "The Big Green Egg."
All I know is that my brother makes some of the best ribs I have ever had -- fall-off-the-bone tender and perfectly seasoned every time.
The best part is that he gets such a kick out of how we rave about them, which reminds me so much of my grandfather and those sweet summer days, laughing.
SAM'S SMOKIN' RIBS
Makes 6 servings
4-5 racks of baby-back ribs
Tones Rosemary Garlic Seasoning or Garlic Powder
Lawry's Seasoned Salt
fresh ground pepper
Heat smoker to 250-300 degrees.
Wash ribs using kosher salt. Pat dry. Sprinkle generously on both sides with remaining seasonings. Place ribs on a rib rack (which positions the ribs upright) and into the smoker.
Baby-back ribs cooked this way should take 20 to 30 minutes. Regular ribs will take about 10 minutes longer.
For those who prefer ribs with sauce, separate the cooked ribs, place them in a roasting pan, cover with your favorite sauce and heat in a very slow oven.
Per serving: 448 calories, 29 grams protein, 36 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat, 143 milligrams cholesterol, 1,256 milligrams sodium
SANDRA'S FAVORITE COLESLAW
Makes 8 servings
1 large head green cabbage, cored and very finely shredded
3 Kirby cucumbers, peeled, seeded and sliced paper-thin
3 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
Mix the shredded cabbage and sliced cucumbers in a large colander. Toss well with the 3 tablespoons of kosher salt and leave to wilt for 20 minutes.
Squeeze the slaw firmly by handfuls to get as much of the liquid out as possible.
Using your fingers or two forks, toss and loosen the squeezed slaw. Toss in an oblong baking dish and set aside.
To make the dressing, bring the vinegar, sugar and salt to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring just until the sugar is dissolved.
Boil for 3 minutes, then whisk in the Dijon mustard and oil.
Pour the hot dressing over the slaw and toss lightly to blend. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve room temperature or cold.
Optional: For coleslaw made with mayonnaise, wait until slaw is slightly cooled, then add mayonnaise to taste.
Per serving: 209 calories, 3 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrate, 4grams fiber, 8 grams fat, 1 grams saturated fat, 1 milligrams cholesterol, 2,351 milligrams sodium