Arkie Cheese Steak Sandwich

It’s not on the grill or the smoker, but this time of year (football season) colder weather and not wanting to miss the game occasionally call for other kinds of cooking. Don’t worry, it still involves meat.

This is my variation on the classic cheese steak sandwich, with a few ingredient changes from a traditional Philly.

Traditionally, you use green bell peppers and onions with Swiss or baby Swiss cheese on steak you’ve had a butcher slice razor thin. I’ve used a frozen blend of green, red and yellow bell peppers with onions, added sliced mushrooms, switched to Monterey Jack cheese, (for easier melting) and added Cavender’s Greek seasoning to the meat. That much is made a lot easier (I found all the ingredients at Walmart) and cheaper by using Steakumm, or on this case, a house brand knockoff, than going to a butcher shop.

It also helps, unless you’re cooking for several people, to open the packages of vegetables, mushrooms and meat and transfer them all into freezer bags so you can dole out however much you need and set the rest back. The large iron skillet will hold enough ingredients for about two sandwiches.

Start by cutting a hoagie roll or sub roll from the bakery sandwich style and adding mayo to both sides. Next, in a large cast iron skillet heat about a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil on medium heat, and add the peppers, onions and mushrooms. Stir and turn them until sautéed.

Move them to the side and add one of the frozen shredded steaks. Season the up side with Cavender’s and wait two minutes. Continue stirring the vegetables, then turn the meat over and season the other, now browned side. Wait two more minutes while stirring the vegetables, then turn the meat again and use the spatula to separate the meat and stir it together with the vegetables.

Once all the meat is browned, sprinkle shredded cheese over the mixture until it starts to melt. Fold that over once with the spatula and put it on the roll to serve.

Orange Creamsickle Cake

Even the manliest pitmaster has to have desert now and then. And here in the South, few deserts are more popular in the summer than the orange creamsickle. All the best of orange sherbet and vanilla ice cream put together on a stick and just made for dripping down the hands and chins of grubby little kids on a hot day. Sometimes it’s ice cream encased in a layer of sherbet, sometimes they’re blended together, depending on the brand your mom bought.

Then there’s another classic, the Coca-Cola cake, which in no time at all branched out into the Dr. Pepper cake, the 7-Up cake, and so on.

I figured, why not combine the two? Especially when it’s an incredibly simple recipe. I’ll state at the outset that any flavor of cake mix will do, as well as your choice of soda. But for my purposes, this is what I used.

  • 1 orange flavored cake mix
  • 6 0z. orange soda
  • 6 oz. cream soda

Now that’s the minimum, if you want to keep it simple. Mix those up and follow the baking instructions on the box, leaving out the eggs, oil, water, or whatever it may call for. I, however, added a few other things.

  • 1 Tbs. sour cream
  • 1-1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

As above, mix it all up and bake it in a pan. If you like, you can make a glaze like I did. Fill a glass 2-cup measuring cup about 3/4 full with powdered sugar. Sift it as smooth as you can with a fork to get the clumps out. SLOWLY pour in a very small amount of orange soda. A little goes a long way. No need to measure, just eyeball it. But err on the side of too little and then stir. You can always add more, but it’s near impossible to take it out. When it’s a nice, milky-orange color you’ve got it. It should be pretty thick, too.

Wait until the cake is cool before drizzling the glaze on it. Otherwise it’ll just melt and make your cake all soggy instead of coating the top.

Legs And Ribs (With Gas)

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I wanted some variety for dinner, so I decided to do some drumsticks and country style pork ribs. Why don’t I ever seem to do ribs still on the bone? Well, I have, I just haven’t documented it yet.

Anyway, there was no rub involved this time, but I did put both meats in foil pans with some Head Country marinade that I found on clearance at Walmart. It has similarities to Worcestershire, so it would probably work well with beef, too. Just be sure to shake it well before pouring, as it has spices in it that settle at the bottom of the bottle otherwise.

I also deviated from my normal routine this time by using my gas grill and smoker boxes instead of the barrel smoker.

I turned the meat over in their pans about half an hour in so they would cook evenly. Another half hour later I took them out of the pans and let indirect heat cook them. Of course, the drumsticks finished a lot sooner than the ribs, but that was okay because it gave us something to eat while we waited for the rest to be done. I kept the ribs on the top rack, dripping down into their pan to minimize the mess and keep some moisture in the air inside the grill.

Of course, the last half hour I mopped the ribs with my homemade sauce. I know, you really only have to do the last ten minutes or so, but I really like a good glaze of sauce soaking in at the end.

When it hit the plate, I served it up with baked beans and loaded potato salad.

“Recycler” Patty Melt

There always seems to be one.

Whenever you grill burgers, it never fails. There’s one straggler than makes its way into the fridge because nobody can seem to cram any more food down their gullet after two burgers, at least one hot dog, chips and dip, fries and/or tots and/or onion rings, and no telling how many fizzy beverages. Oh, and don’t forget the baked beans. But the next day, who really wants to eat it? The microwave or toaster oven will just dry it out further, the oven and grill are both overkill, and even so, they just don’t have the same great flavor. What to do? Patty Melt.

Butter up a couple pieces of bread, throw one in a hot frying pan and add the leftover burger. If it has a leftover slice of American “cheese product” fused to its surface from the night before, tails wins the toss. Then cover the other side with another slice, but if you have it, mix it up a little with white American this time, or better yet, Swiss or mozzarella. For this one I used mozzarella.

Finish it off with the other slice, turning it a time or two until it’s golden brown like a grilled cheese sandwich. If you want to get fancy with it, A-1 makes a great dipping sauce for this one.

Chicken, Mushrooms And Vegetables

This one is probably a bit healthier than most of the entries here.

Start out with a zucchini squash, a yellow squash, a red onion, grape tomatoes, and bell pepper. I got an assortment of red, green and yellow bell peppers a little smaller than the size of my fist. Slice ’em all up, toss them in a bowl with some olive oil and seasoning before putting them in the grilling basket. For this one I’m using Weber’s Roasted Garlic and Herb seasoning.

Next, I have boneless, skinless chicken breast tenderloins marinading in a bag with some olive oil and the same seasoning before putting them on the foil-covered grill. Chicken sometimes likes to stick, even if you have a clean, oiled grilling surface, so foil and oil make it easier.

While the chicken in over direct heat on low, the vegetables are next to the chicken getting indirect heat. I toss the vegetables whenever I check the chicken. But for now, I’m inside, using the stove and a cast iron skillet (sorry no pics) to saute sliced mushrooms in olive oil with minced garlic and some red onion.

Running back and forth between the two, trying not to burn anything is no fun, so I kept the chicken on a little lower than normal until the mushrooms were done. Then turn it up a little more for the big finish.

Smoked BBQ Chicken

For a family campout at the lake, I decided to take the portable charcoal smoker and this time, chicken was on the menu. Once again, I turned to Kingsford’s Hickory briquettes in addition to actual hickory chunks to give the meat that irreplaceable smoky flavor.

Using four filleted chicken breast halves, I added the BBQ rub from Bud’s Custom Meats and let the flavor soak in while I started the charcoal and let the briquettes burn down to coals. Once they were ready and the water bowl in place, all I had to do was moved the pan to the upper grilling surface. It makes it so much easier when it comes to cleanup, and the heat and smoke still swirl all around the meat and get into it. Since it’s going to be finished in sauce, it doesn’t have to have the cosmetic touch of grill marks.

I let the meat sit on the smoke for two and a half hours, turning it over in the pan halfway through. After that it was time for the sauce. This time I chose to give the Sam’s Choice Sweet Rich BBQ Sauce a try. It’s a molasses sauce (I have yet to meet a molasses sauce I didn’t like) with, according to the label, “a hint of black pepper and a touch of heat.” And since there were some in our group who had never had the pleasure of experiencing the sweet southern pleasure of molasses sauce, it was a no-brainer.

2015-06-12 19.48.29Since we had six people, I cut the meat into large chunks and then smaller chunks before criss-crossing them with sauce and then slathering it all over with the baster. Another half hour with higher heat, to thicken the sauce (and wait for the baked beans to heat up), stirring occasionally, it was finished. I’ve never been much of a fan of fighting to get to the meat with bones, fat and skin on BBQ chicken, so this is the perfect alternative.

Bud's bbq rubI had a bite of the smoked meat itself before applying the sauce, and offered the same to everyone else at camp. Most accepted, all of whom loved it, as did I. It was juicy, smoky and perfectly seasoned. Bud’s BBQ rub has a sweet, smoky flavor without being too salty that’s as great for smoking chicken as it is on pork.

Sam's BBQ sauceThe Sam’s choice sauce was exactly as described: sweet and smoky with just a little bit of bite. I’d recommend it right along with any of my other favorites.

Country Style Pork Ribs

For today’s entry, there’s a new piece of equipment. For two upcoming camping trips, I want to be able to smoke something, anything, for dinner one night while we’re there, but all the campsites have are fire pits and those grills that are so wide open and shallow that you can only grill things on them fast and hot like burgers and hot dogs. But whatever goes has to be small and lightweight.

Enter the Brinkmann Smoke’N Grill portable charcoal smoker. I had considered one of the many DIY plans online for smokers using things like a Weber Smoky Joe kettle grill and a 32 qt. steamer pot, or a terra cotta pot and an electric hot plate, but one takes metal fab skills I haven’t used since 8th grade shop class and tools I don’t have and the other requires electricity where you should be at least roughing it a little bit. Not to mention both ended up costing more than the $50 of the Brinkmann because of all the parts and extras you have to buy. So I grabbed the last one The Home Depot had, some Kingsford hickory briquettes, lighter fluid and hickory chunks.

Once I had it out of the box and assembled, I couldn’t wait for the next morning. Kind of like the reverse order of a kid with a Christmas present.

2015-05-30 17.28.03When I smoke meat it’s almost always pork butt. But since this was a new cooker whose personality I hadn’t yet learned, I decided to go with something smaller in case it didn’t come out right. So I settled on a small tray of country style pork ribs. They’re almost entirely deboned, so there’s more meat to one than some others, and already in individual pieces that you don’t have to break apart to fit on the grill surface or peel anything off of. The rub I chose to use this time was from Bud’s Custom Meats in Penngrove, CA, about an hour north of San Francisco. It’s a little sweeter than the Head Country rub I usually use, which is also a little spicier with more garlic and onion flavor.

2015-05-30 13.51.14After getting the charcoal lit, I applied the rub, which didn’t take long enough for the Kingsford to burn down to coals, but who’s in a hurry? There was plenty of time to enjoy the cool breeze of a rainy Arkansas day while visiting with a neighbor, who would be my guest, smoking chicken leg quarters on the lower grill surface. Once they had burned down enough, we added a few small, dry hickory chips at first just to get the smoke started, followed by some chunks that had been soaking for about half an hour. Finally, it was time to add the meat, close the lid and sit back for a 5 hour visit, occasionally stoking the fire adding more charcoal, adding more wood, and refilling a beverage, always careful not to let the smoke stop and keep the temperature in the “Ideal” range on the gauge.

2015-05-30 17.04.41Note to self: shop for inexpensive aftermarket temperature gauge that fits the same hole, but has numbers on it.

The final half hour or so, we removed the water pan to let the meat cook faster and all the way through. That was also the opportunity I took to turn the ribs,  slop some 2015-05-30 17.28.26sauce on them, and turn them again halfway through to get the other side. Nothing like a good cooked-on glaze. My choice this time was Head Country’s hickory flavored sauce.

You can point the finger of blame at me for forgetting to get baked beans when I was at the store the night before, so frozen tater tots were the best available candidate for a side. Leave it to my girlfriend to come up with something to step it up a notch. Some people would be satisfied with salt and/or ketchup.

Others go for cheese tots. She came up with a whole new creation: Ro-Tel (seasoned, diced tomatoes and diced green chilis) and Velveeta. So, is this a new twist on an old favorite that Sonic and other fast food places will eventually offer, “Southwest Cheesy Tots?” Or has moving to Arkansas turned her full redneck? You decide. I’ll say they were really good!

The ribs were a bit on the salty side, but I suspect it was the combination of the rub and the cooked on sauce. One or the other by itself would probably have been fine.

So this time around you not only got my account of smoking ribs, but a long winded story and a bonus recipe!

Dr. Pepper-Bourbon Brine

chicken and brine in a bagI’m trying a new brine tonight. I’ve cut two chicken breast fillets into skewer-size pieces and put them in a Ziploc bag. They’ll be in the refrigerator for about 48 hours, due to plans for dinner out tomorrow night, but the alcohol should keep any bacteria at bay.

In a mixing bowl I combined:

1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup Dr. Pepper
1/4 cup bourbon (I used Evan Williams)
a few shakes of salt
a few shakes of black pepper
a few shakes of ground cloves

I stirred it all together with a fork, put the chicken in the bag and then poured in the brine. Looking back, it would’ve been easier if I’d used a large Pyrex measuring cup instead of a mixing bowl, or just poured all the brine ingredients into the bag, sealed it, mixed it by mashing it with my hands until blended and then added the meat. Oh, well. Next time.

The final product was tender and flavorful, but not overly juicy, so I may have just cooked them too long. First I got the grilling surface good and hot on both sides, with some hickory chips in the smoker boxes on the right. Then I turned them both down to medium and put on the skewers. They got a few minutes on one side, then the other, then back and forth one more time each. The second round is when they got basted with a good coat of the Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce. Some folks like a mustard-based sauce, some like vinegar. Others like sweet and smoky, or maybe even molasses or honey. I definitely fall in the sweet category. But still others prefer it hot and peppery. That was my impression of this sauce, and I couldn’t really tell that there was any Dr. Pepper flavor to it. So it made an okay glaze, but I definitely needed a refill on my iced tea before it was all said and done.

Beer Batter Grill-Fried Chicken

in the panI had a craving for some beer batter fried chicken but, as usual, wanted to cook on my grill. What’s a southern boy to do? Aluminum pans to the rescue! This way I can fry chicken for real (not bake pre-fried, frozen stuff on a cookie sheet in the oven), not fill the house with that stale fried grease smell for hours or days to come, not make a mess on the stove, not have to wash a pan afterward, and (BONUS!!) I get to use my grill.

Now granted, it had been a coon’s age since I’ve fried chicken myself, so I forgot one important step in the process. But it still came out alright, and I’ll remember next time.

For the batter:

1 cup plain old bleached flour
1 egg
1 12 0z. bottle of beer
seasonings of your choice

I used a “French Fry Seasoning” from the store that smells and tastes an awful lot like the stuff they have on the table at Steak N Shake restaurants.

Instead of filling the pan with a couple of inches of vegetable oil, I melted two sticks of real butter over low heat, so not to scorch it.

Paula Deen would be proud.

crunchies on the plateI wanted to see if this method will work for camping trips later this year. I’ll remember for next time, but I forgot that after dipping in the batter the chicken should be rolled in another, dry mix of flour and spices so it’ll stick. Also, I had the burners on medium to prevent scorching the butter, but it took forever to start sizzling. Once I set them to about three quarters, it went just fine. So I got fried chicken minus a lot of its crust, but a lot of really good crunchies. (Yeah, just like the crumbs at Long John Silver’s.) Flour, seasoning, beer, egg, butter. It’s practically buttered french toast. Minus syrup plus beer.

I asked my girlfriend if she wanted to try some of the crunchies with me (and they were soooo good!), but she kept saying something about arteries… or some such nonsense… I couldn’t hear over the crunching sound.

drumsticks, crunchies and iced teaMore for me.

Gave her neighbor one of the drumsticks, as he was getting home just as they finished, so I had three legs, a lot of crunchies and sweetened iced tea. I love being southern! Now for a slice of lemon icebox pie…

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