So bad and yet so good. A patty melt is just a hamburger on a piece of bread, but when you add comeback sauce to it…well it’s that whole new level thing.
Comeback sauce was invented in Mississippi and the name says it all – it’s so good you’ll want to come back for more. Down in Mississippi, they use it for sandwiches, salad dressings and just as a dip for something equally sinful like fried pickles.
I made this gut bomb of the hamburger world for my friends at Char-Broil. Hop on over and take a look. I think you’ll want to come back for another.
The Princess is in the house and the first order of the day is ham dip. We are at our beloved Oak Haven Resort for the latest family reunion and after the luggage is deposited and the wine is cooling, ham dip must be created. It is the glue that holds this family together. We will make multiple batches over the far too few days we are here and it is now tying generation to generation.
It is a simple concoction from my mother in law, Bunny – Underwood Deviled Ham (I know of no other kind) and sour cream. Served with Fritos Scoops. Bunny taught me. I taught my son, Noah. And now, Noah is teaching my granddaughter, Sydney. She is 5. We call her the Princess because that’s what she is. Truly. She wears a tiara. And she’s a generous girl – she shares it with whoever is within tiara range. Gender is not an issue.
Ham dip is the catalyst for a week of excess. It is a miracle we have not all been admitted to the cardiac care unit of the Sevierville City Hospital. This is literally the snack list for the week: deep fried macaroni, taquitos, steak bites, pigs in a blanket (both kinds – puff pastry and pretzel dough), Lipton’s onion dip with bacon-flavored Pringles, Doritos with that magic cheese dust, triple chocolate chip cookies, apple fritters, molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and both chocolate and caramel sauce, a 4-pound jar of Jelly Bellies (49 flavors!) and an energy blend of edamame, cranberries, almonds and sunflower seeds strictly for health reasons.
If you cannot smile broadly and swallow a laugh as you dig into the onion dip and bacon potato chips while preparing for an excursion to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Aquarium in Gatlinburg, you are not our kind of people.
So Tammy, mother to the Princess, inspired snack week by the virtue of the fact that when she married our beloved Josh she did not cook. Snacks she could do and she has taken this genre to a high level of art. But I believe Bunny and I have rubbed off on her over the years. A few weeks before the reunion, she asked me if I could teach her how to grill a steak. Wow, that’s a single source of food that requires heat not set to 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Hell, yes.
So, here’s the lesson and your tip for the day. Pick a steak. I like flat iron. Hot and fast on the grill. Salt and pepper or your favorite rub. Put it on the steak. Spray oil. Spray one side. Throw the spray side on the grill. Hear that immediate sizzle sound. That’s what you want. Grill it until you can peek and see nice grill marks. Don’t mess with it too much. Spray the top side and flip. USE AN INSTANT READ THERMOMETER. Sorry to yell, but if you’re an amateur griller you need to invest in one of these. 130 degrees internal temperature for medium rare. Pull it off the grill and let it rest for 10 minutes under a tent foil. That’s it.
There’s my girl. Checking her steaks with an instant read thermometer. Notice King Daddy and the Princess in the background. They are waiting for this:
Done deal. From ham dip to perfectly cooked steak. We’ve got it covered. And it’s just Day 3. By the way, the super secret recipe for ham dip is two large cans of Underwood Deviled Ham to 8 ounces of sour cream. Serve with Fritos Scoops. It looks like dog food but you will eat every last scrap. You’re welcome.
So one of the things I love about cooking is that, really, there are no rules. I’m not a rules girl. It’s probably why I ultimately failed in upper management at a giant newspaper chain. It’s also why I’m not a very good baker. Baking is science and it has a lot of rules. Cooking is chaos. It’s a pinch of this and a dab of that. This is also why I love Ree Drummond, The Pioneer Woman. Not only does she not have rules, she doesn’t have any pretensions about her cooking.
When I got her first cookbook, I leafed through it eagerly to discover new and exciting recipes. What I found instead was a very level-headed guide to simple things she cooks for her family. Who puts Egg in a Hole in a professionally published cookbook? Or her husband’s favorite sandwich – a steak sammie made with cube steak. And yet, my absolute favorite blackberry cobbler comes from The Pioneer Woman Cooks cookbook. And it’s not even really a cobbler. It’s more like a cake. But King Daddy absolutely adores it.
So the other night, Noah was watching The Pioneer Woman and she made Salisbury Steak. I actually had to look up what Salisbury Steak was and then I got curious about who invented it. Turns out it was a doctor in the 1800s who was a proponent of a low-carb diet. Some things never change (pass the pasta, please).
This is decidedly low brow. The recipe calls for ingredients like ketchup, a beef bouillon cube and Kitchen Bouquet. I didn’t exactly know what that was, either. Turns out it’s primarily made of caramel with vegetable flavorings. My beloved Publix didn’t carry it and just as well. It would have sat in my cupboard for another 17 years before I found another use for it.
The bottom line is this:
It was unfussy, easy, pedestrian and delicious. Even without the Kitchen Bouquet. I’m going to send you on over to the Food Network now to take a look see at the Salisbury Steak Recipe.
And here’s my recipe for the sour cream mashed potatoes that went with it. Equally simple, unfussy and delicious.
I cook with wine. Sometimes I even put it in the food.
I put at least a couple of cups of Malbec or merlot in my spaghetti sauce. As I’m sipping on a wee glass, of course. A little splash of white wine with butter and capers makes a lovely sauce for chicken cutlets. Quality control must be maintained at all times. Never put wine in food that you wouldn’t also drink. So I do. Now that Noah is home he’s helping in the kitchen. That’s cut into my wine supply quite a bit. We both like to cook with wine. It must be inherited.
Making marinades with wine is one of its highest and best uses. If you’ve bought any bottled marinades, take a look at the ingredients. You might as well make your own. Any words you can’t pronounce on the label? If you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t be eating it. Bottled marinades also have a lot of sodium and some of them contain high fructose corn syrup.
But I digress. I got a 1950s itch for shish kabob the other night and broke out some filet pieces left over from breaking down a whole tenderloin. Yes, I am just that good. I butcher my own whole tenderloin. I used this red wine marinade that just deepens the beefy flavor of the meat. I believe a had a couple of sips of the red wine without all the other ingredients just to make sure it hadn’t turned to vinegar. Actually, I cannot fib. There’s never enough left over wine in my house to turn to vinegar.
Use this marinade on any cut of beef or lamb. Have a glass or two of Pinot Noir while you make it. I cook with wine.
Of course, I can’t talk about the actual competition. The series starts tonight but my episode doesn’t air until Sept. 3. So mum’s the word lest the Travel Channel pulls up to 5117 with a 54-foot moving van to take away my house.
But I can talk about the unlikely scenario that landed me on this national show to begin with.
As is many times the case, it’s not what you know but who you know and I know Danielle Dimovski. She’s a fellow Char-Broil All Star Blogger and has her own hit show on the Travel Channel – BBQ Crawl. And she sent me a message: “You ought to apply to American Grilled.”
I like grilling. Actually, I love grilling. I do it almost every night. And I love reality shows. I have never missed a single episode of Survivor and I’m not ashamed of that. So a timed competition that involves grilling? How hard could that be?
But I am probably one of 8,000 people applying for this so I do not get my hopes up as I fill out the extensive online questionnaire and hit the “send” button.
I am at the CRC warehouse, with the cement plant going full bore across the street, when the phone rings. I can barely hear the male voice on the other end. It’s some dude in New York City wanting to ask me some questions about American Grilled. They are questions that require some bravado on my part, explaining why I’m God’s gift to grilling. I fake it.
“What’s you’re favorite thing to grill?” he asks. I search my memory bank for some outlandishly difficult ingredient.
“Steak.” Really, can’t you come up with anything more impressive?
Perfectly grilled filet mignon topped with herb butter
I grill a really good steak. See? So I embellish and tell him I also make a red wine reduction. That sounds marginally better. The dude hangs up and I figure that is that.
It’s a delightful young lady in California a few weeks later. She wants to ask me more questions about American Grilled, including that annoying one about my favorite thing to grill. Steak. I say steak again. What is my issue? Nobody is going to put you on national television because you know how to grill a steak. Why didn’t I say alligator or water buffalo? She hangs up and, once again, I surmise that this will be the end of the road.
I am sitting on a bench outside the Little Brothers Shell Station in Brentwood, waiting to get my tire changed. It’s another delightful young lady in New York. “I am happy to tell you that have you have been selected to compete on American Grilled.” I am stunned. What does this actually mean? I have been told nothing about how this works other than I am expected to show up in Memphis in a few weeks. “Is there anything I need to do to prepare other than be hysterical?” I ask her. “No, that’s about it,” she says. “Oh, and don’t tell anyone you’re doing this.”
Don’t tell anyone I’m doing this?
So I haven’t until now. The producers say I can now tell my friends and family I am going to be on American Grilled. I can now tell you that I competed on my birthday and that it involved torrential rain and the very real possibility of tornadoes. And it involved grilling. Have I told you I grill a pretty good steak?
When Noah was born in 1992, we sent out birth announcements naturally (today you’d just post it on Facebook).This is what the announcement said:
Mark and Catherine Mayhew
are proud to announce the arrival
of the newest Tennessee Volunteer
“Class of 2014″
Noah Chapin Mayhew
Yesterday, my boy graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in public relations. Sometimes magic happens.
So this is my love letter to my son upon the beginning of his life as a fully functioning adult. I hated writing that by the way. It’s those “roots and wings” things.
Noah, yesterday could not have been more magical to me and not because of the birth announcement. You took Daddy and I to the Communications Building where you’d spent long hours learning and studying. We ran into the Dean and he knew you well. That speaks volumes. You do stand out in a crowd. We watched you get a Special Citation from the Russian Department for your joyful involvement in the Russian program. How many kids your age…I’m sorry, adults…know how to make pelmeni and whirl like a mad man performing Russian dances? Not a one I know about. Plus your teacher – the beautiful Masha – has pronounced you fluent in Russian.
Then we watched you graduate. Noah Chapin Mayhew “walked.” One doesn’t graduate these days. One walks. With purpose and confidence, I might add.
And I handed you the birth announcement. A younger Noah would have winced. But an older, wiser and mature Noah knew that photo with that announcement meant everything. Have I mentioned I have now started crying, oh, seven times in the last 10 minutes. Bad Mommy.
So meanwhile, Granbunny was getting ready for the graduation party. I am hard-pressed to say who is more OCD about entertaining, but I believe I’ll give it to Noah’s grandmother. She painfully allowed plastic plates instead of china (no paper!) but stood her ground on real silverware (no plastic!). She spent the afternoon searching for a six-foot serving table (not five, not seven) and went to three different places before she found it. When Noah and his guests arrived, it was perfect.
I grilled sirloin burgers (not regular hamburgers!). We drank beer and wine. There was convivial adult conversation. It was perfect.
Granbunny, Mum, Noah and Masha
I am not saying what I want to say as eloquently as I want to say it. I’m sure every parent dreams of this moment when their child launches. When he or she has put in incredible hours and hard work to achieve. When they learn that good enough isn’t great and they want great. When the whole world is opened up to them because they’ve prepared to step into it.
Noah Balboa, your father, Granbunny and I could not be prouder of you. We could not love you more. We think we might have done a pretty good job, but the end results are all yours.
This is not your grandmother’s pressure cooker. And it can’t put your eye out. And it is the latest version of a steam digester that was invented in 1679 by French physicist Denis Papin. It is my newest toy and I am besotted.
I had not even considered getting another pressure cooker. My first one could put your eye out. But then I was watching Iron Chef America and Alton Brown or someone said the chefs who compete all use them for slow-cooking meats like pork butts and briskets in under an hour.
So King Daddy and I bought a pressure cooker. And read the instruction manual thoroughly. Even though it’s not the deadly weapon it used to be, I had some concerns about the average pressure cooker user. The booklet had a lot of warnings. YOU SHOULD NEVER ATTEMPT TO OPEN THE LID WHILE PRESSURE COOKING. Yes, it was in all caps. Why would you do that? What person does not understand the concept of pounds of pressure trapped in a pot? Or: “The Keep Warm setting should not be used for more than 12 hours.” Twelve hours? Is that the pressure cooking version of the Viagra warning to call your doctor if you have an erection that lasts more than four hours? And: “Do not operate your appliance in an appliance garage or under a wall cabinet.” What’s an appliance garage? I want one. But not for my pressure cooker. I’ve been warned.
So beautiful food photo alert. One is coming. Even though King Daddy and I completely botched my first attempt in 30 years at using a pressure cooker. I made beef stew. Browned the meat in the cooker, added onions and garlic, red wine and beef stock. Closed that baby up, hit “high pressure” and waited for the magic to happen. There was a tremendous amount of steam coming out of the top. We did not question that until 40 minutes had gone by and we realized we had the pressure limit valve in the wrong position. The possibility of completely burned beef stew was there. But it wasn’t. It was lacking a little moisture since all the broth had evaporated, but we just added more broth and wine and pressure cooked it again.
It was utterly delicious, incredibly tender and moist. I love this thing. I am my very own Iron Chef. And I am going to be out of control, I can tell. Tonight, smothered pork chops. Tomorrow, carnitas. I am going to have to start taking meat presents to the neighbors.
So back when it was bitter cold (about three days ago), I decided to make chili. What’s more comforting? And I looked up Bobby Flay’s recipe for Red Beef Chili. Something different. Something gourmet. And, as it turned out, something completely impossible for me to accomplish.
I have a short attention span and I realized that a recipe with 20 ingredients was never coming off my stove. Especially because my beloved Publix does not carry a lot of the ingredients he calls for in the recipe. It’s okay – let Bobby Flay be Bobby Flay. He’s a really great chef. But here’s what he wanted me to scour the greater Nashville area to find:
Thai bird chile: I know of one place that has them and that’s the Interasian Market. And they are growing on a tree by the check-out stand. I do not believe they are meant for the patrons to pick.
Cascabel chile powder: I have never heard of it.
Chipotle pepper puree: I can only guess at what this is. There is no recipe within the recipe for it.
Pasilla chile powder: No idea.
New Mexican chile powder: I would like to travel to New Mexico to find some but that would add another $1,239 to the cost of the ingredients what with the plane ticket and hotel room.
Plus the recipe requires an immersion blender, which I do not have. I would like one. If anyone out there wants to gift me one, I’ll go back and try this again.
However. HOWEVER. I got maybe halfway there. I used the round steak. I used the beer reducing with the beef in the pan (great idea – so many other applications). I used the chiles I could find (poblano and jalapeno). But, the good Lord forgive me, I added beans to the chili. I know, I know.
Part of creating a recipe is taking someone else’s good ideas and manipulating them into your own good idea. This chili is a good idea. King Daddy ate three bowls of it. And, always a good thing, it freezes beautifully.
1 poblano pepper, cored, seeds and veins removed and diced
1 jalapeno pepper, cored, seeds and veins removed and diced
1 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 package of mild chili seasoning
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups chicken stock
2 15.5-ounce cans kidney beans, undrained
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Heat the oil in a heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat.
Salt and pepper the beef chunks and add them to the pot in small batches, browning all sides. Add the cumin and stir it into the beef for one minute. Add the beer and bring it to a boil. Continue boiling until the beer has been reduced to the point that it is only a thick glaze on the meat. Remove the meat and reserve.
Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot and throw in the red onion, poblano pepper and jalapeno pepper. Saute until the onion is beginning to turn brown. Add the beef back to the pot along with the tomato sauce, chili seasoning, salt, chicken stock and kidney beans.
Put the pot in the oven and pot’s lid slightly ajar. Cook for 3-4 hours until the beef is fork tender and easily shreds.
First, I would just like to say that I hope the Ryman Auditorium is available for Gail Kerr’s funeral because First Presbyterian Church Downtown is not going to hold all the people who will want to attend. Side note: For those of you who don’t know, Gail was a prominent and beloved columnist for The Tennessean and tonight you can barely get a word in edgewise praising her on Facebook (for which, I am slightly certain, she would be mortified).
Second, I would like to note that this sucks. Gail would concur. The thought had occurred to her that the end might be sooner than later (we talked about it at lunch a few weeks ago). But it was not the game plan.
You will have to indulge me. I am having a glass of wine. Gail would be – and I hope is – doing the same right now. So let’s take a little stroll down Memory Lane.
1997. The Tennessean. I am the assistant managing editor for news and Gail is a team leader (she wrangled a group of 5-6 reporters). The city editor leaves and I promote Gail to city editor. It was the job of her dreams. And she was a dream of a city editor.
Dang it. I just started crying again. Stop it.
So, we were partners in crime. Human Resources would have been appalled. So many things we did not share with them. I won’t go into them here. She took that to the grave and I will, too. But I will share we had a little ritual when someone we didn’t like left the paper. They would resign, just the leave taker, me and her in my office. We would look very sad. They would exit and I would close the door. And then we had this mini-wave using just our fingers flapping toward our palms. And we would laugh and say, “Bye bye.”
We shared many a night at a local bar drinking wine. Probably ill advised. She was bawdy and smart and compassionate. And here’s the most important thing you need to know about Gail Kerr. She was loyal. After I was essentially booted out of The Tennessean, a lot of so-called friends faded away, my perceived power gone. Not Gail. It did not even cross her mind, for which I will be eternally grateful.
Did I mention Gail was a dribbler? It actually was a joke. We’d eat lunch and no matter the food or the utensil, at some point a drop of food would land on her blouse. Each and every time. She finally found those Tide instant wipe-up things and that helped enormously.
So then she got sick. And it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t get well again. The good die young? No, no, no. When we had lunch at the Turnip Truck a few weeks ago, she filled her plate and ate every scrap. I hadn’t seen her do that in two years. I was encouraged and I told her so. She said she wasn’t afraid of dying, just the process. And I told her I felt in my heart that it wasn’t her time yet. I hate to be wrong. So did she.
Gail was also a very good cook. Here’s your Gail tip: On the weekends, she would fire up the grill and cook chicken, sausage, pork chops, whatever. And then store it in the fridge to use later in the week. Smart cookie.
I wish I had a better ending to a story that has a heart-breaking end, particularly for her husband, Les. It’s nice to go on and on talking about Gail’s legacy and her professionalism on Facebook. And it’s all true. But at the end of the day, this day, one of the few people who had a truly nice, selfless and compassionate soul has flown the coop. I am glad I am a religious person, as was she. I know there’s some splatter of pulled pork on her blouse right now. Tide clean-ups not necessary.
Salt, pepper, garlic powder and cayenne powder to taste
1 green pepper, sliced into strips
1 medium onion, sliced into strips
Cut the steak into strips and brown in vegetable oil in two to three batches so the meat has room to brown and form a nice crust. Set aside.
Combine the ketchup, water, bouillon cube, soy sauce, flour and seasonings. Add that to the skillet you browned the meat in and simmer for five minutes. Add the meat back and simmer on low heat for 90 minutes. Add the green pepper and onion while you cook the rice.
Serve the pepper steak over rice.
This is a 1970s Southern Living recipe that never fails. It’s awesome – makes the house smell good, the cook can drink and watch Dancing With the Stars (Go, Donny!) while it’s cooking, it’s cheap and the round steak ends up totally tender.
I have made this for years, as did my mother and sister.