High on the Hog

pulledpork.jpgIf you want to entertain high on the hog and go hog wild then – in fact – why not go hog wild and pig out high on the hog!

Seems elementary!

The only other declaration that generates as much gleeful excitement as “T*O*G*A!“ is “B*B*Q!” – especially if you bring in the best meats from the great BBQ states of Texas, Tennessee and the Carolinas! And, that is exactly what we did for a season farewell dinner last week in Palm Beach.

Our Menu:

For appetizers we had pulled pork sliders, brie and mango quesadillas, and Virginia stone milled grits “martinis” with Charleston style shrimp and Andouille Sausage.

Our buffet consisted of Blackened Catfish; Florida style BBQ chicken; BBQ Brisket of Beef flown in from Railhead BBQ located in Fort Worth, Texas; BBQ Tennessee pulled pork and ribs, flown in from Corky’s in Memphis, Tennessee; sweet potato fries, home made black eyed peas, grapefruit and avocado salad with poppy seed dressing, Jalapeno cornbread and biscuits. Whew!

Dessert offered up deep fried brownie bites and bananas foster bites; dulce de leche ice cream; and pig pickin’ cake. The take home goodie bags had freshly made pralines from the Jefferson County store in Jefferson, Texas.

pickincake.jpgWhat? You have never heard of Pig Pickin’ Cake?

Well, neither had I until a friend, Mary K Gardner, from Swansboro, North Carolina, told me you simply can NOT have a Southern BBQ without Pig Pickin’ Cake, and she gave me the recipe – which rendered me haplessly but happily smothered in Cool Whip! Pig Pickin’ Cake is the perfect example of the gastronomic “secret sin” – that retro feel good food will always trump houte cuisine for utter contentment. Guests normally used to Palm Beach’s fashion food and who normally count decaf espresso and chocolate covered mint leaves as dessert, wolfed down the cake and went back for more – and that was after downing ribs, pulled pork, sweet potato fries and everything else on the buffet table!

Logistically, I was incapable of preparing Pig Pickin’ Cake, nor my own recipes for sixty people, so I turned to White Apron Professional Catering Services to not only prepare my favorite dishes but to add to the buffet with their own. Luckily it helped that owner, Charlie Crawford was from Virginia – he thought this party was going to be a hoot!

Below are Charlie’s favorite recipes from our dinner, and – tada – Pig Pickin’ Cake. 


My favorite BBQ sauce is from North Carolina and is vinegar based. Most recipes for this lite and spicy sauce call for a combination of white and cider vinegars, (which I have given below), but I like using the slightly sweetened Japanese style rice vinegar – a personal taste of mine that came after I found nothing else in the pantry one night. This is beyond delicious with pulled pork or pork ribs.

2 cups vinegar – I cup each of cider and white vinegar
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 (I use a bit more) tablespoon cayenne pepper
I tablespoon hot pepper sauce (of choice)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients in a tight fitting jar or bottle. Shake to mix well. Refrigerate a day or two before using to guarantee a good blend. If you are in a rush microwave the combined ingredients until they quite hot. Stir well and cool to room temperature. Can be kept in a fridge for at least a month.

Charlie’s Blackened Catfish

6 catfish fillets
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons canola oil
Blackening spice (recipe follows)

Heat cast iron skillet. Dredge fillet in spice mixture. Add ½ butter and ½ oil to pan and when hot add fish. Cook 3-5 min or until lightly blackened and a little crispy. Flip over and add more butter\oil if needed. Cook for 3-5 min or until done. Enjoy!

Blackened Spice

2 ½ tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons ground black pepper
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon oregano-dry
1 tablespoon thyme-dry
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
½ tablespoon nutmeg


Charlie’s Brownie Bites (OMG)

Brownies (recipe follows)
Chocolate chips
3 eggs beaten
2 cups Oreo crumbs
Oil for frying (canola or vegetable)

Bake brownie recipe. Let cool. Cut into 1x1 squares. Push 3 chocolate chips into each brownie piece. Coat in egg then roll in Oreo crumbs. May be frozen ahead at this point. Deep fry at 350°F for 2-3 min (thaw) or 4-5 min (frozen).

Brownie Recipe

2 cups melted butter
1 ½ cup cocoa powder
8 eggs
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups flour

Combine butter and cocoa powder, let cool. Beat eggs and salt till light and fluffy. Gradually add in sugar and vanilla and beat to cream. Add in chocolate mixture and fold in flour. Bake in 9x13 pan 350°F for 25 minutes or until done.


Charlie’s Texas Black Eyed Peas

½ cup diced chorizo
½ cup each diced onions, peppers, and celery
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons cumin
1 tablespoon blacken spice
1 tablespoon chili powder
3 cans black-eyed peas (29 oz can)
1 chopped plum tomato (29 oz can)
2 tablespoons oregano chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro chopped
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Lightly fry chorizo in 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add onions, peppers, celery and garlic. Cook on medium heat 5 minutes. Add dry spices and cook 3 minutes to toast. Add beans and tomato, vinegar. Simmer 25-30 minutes. Add fresh herbs, salt and pepper and cook 10 minutes.


Mary K’s Pig Pickin’ Cake

OK, it is not called Pig Pickin’ Cake just because one becomes a pig pickin’ at it… no. Nor is it made with pig pickin’s. (Though who knows… in the South with a little fruit and Cool Whip anything is possible).

It is called Pig Pickin’ Cake ‘cause in South Carolina, where BBQs are called Pig Pickin’s, it is the dessert of choice.

Heat oven to 350°F.

1 yellow cake mix (I use Betty Crocker)
1 11oz can Mandarin Oranges with juice (or can fruit cocktail)
4 eggs
½ cup oil

Mix together and place in a greased and flowered 9” cake pan. Follow box directions for time.Cool and cut to make four layers.


1-20 oz. can of crushed pineapple, lightly drained
1-3 oz. package instant vanilla pudding
12 oz carton Cool Whip

Mix pineapple with pudding blending well, fold in Cool Whip. Ice layers, tops and sides. Refrigerate at least one hour before serving or until icing sets.

Decorate as you choose canned orange, grapefruit or pineapple slices.


Nancy Ellison, award winning photojournalist and celebrity portraitist, has authored fourteen books of photographs, including "Romeo and Juliet: The Love Story in Dance" and "Starlet". Her newest book, "Wagner's Eternal Ring" will be published this September by Rizzoli.