Our evacuation sojourn in rural Cherry Hill, Arkansas, was both comfortable and endlessly tasty. We were with my brother and sister-in-law, Robert and Johnnie Trower.
Robert’s main retirement hobby is grilling, and I’ve shared his recipes here before. His latest thing is smash burgers made on a big Blackstone gas griddle, which replaced his gas grill after an unfortunate phenomenon: fire ants came boiling up out of it. He tells me the outdoor griddles are the latest thing, because of the smash burger phenomenon. Some restaurants have served this type of burger for decades, but they really caught on after a franchise of the same name became popular.
Smash burgers are just that, smashed burgers, thin, meaty, caramelized and a little crispy around the uneven edges. If you don’t happen to have a big outdoor griddle, you can cook them in a stainless steel or cast iron pan or griddle on the stove or atop the grill.
His twist is to chop or slice onions and griddle them first to a delicious brown. This is divided into little piles. Atop goes one of the meatballs. Wearing heatproof gloves, he presses down hard with two overlapping large metal spatulas. The onions are embedded. The burgers cook in just a few minutes.
These are SO good. He has also griddled mushrooms to put on them, another fantastic option.
Robert has also started making kolaches, sausages wrapped in yeast dough. He thaws, flattens and wraps them with Rhodes Frozen Dinner Rolls.
Sister-in-law Johnnie is also a terrific cook. Anything she makes is good. One thing she is known for: Candied Jalapenos. People go nuts for them, and they are a treasured gift.
Johnnie and Robert have gardens that yield, among other things, bushels of jalapenos every year. With a gadget called the Chile Twister, Johnnie cores them, removing seeds so they are not THAT spicy. She serves candied jalapeños on the side with many meals, as they are so good beside meats and on sandwiches.
Sometimes she puts them out with cream cheese, too. Smeared on crackers, this is jalapeno heaven.
Robert’s Smash Burgers
Robert Trower adapted his recipe from one at simplyrecipes.com. You will need a sturdy spatula. The burger patty must be smashed right at the beginning of cooking to develop the best crust. Have all parts of the burger and meal prepped in advance, as these cook quickly. “The sauce really makes it,” Robert adds. Makes 4.
SMASH BURGER SAUCE
¼ cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons dill pickle juice
1 tablespoon diced dill pickle (or dill pickle relish)
BURGER SEASONING MIX
1 tablespoon EACH kosher salt, black pepper, seasoning salt (Robert skips this and uses a favorite beef season, Butcher’s Blend from Newport Sea Salt Company)
FOR THE BURGERS
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 pound 80/20 ground chuck
4 hamburger buns
2 tablespoons butter
Shredded or leaf lettuce
1 large tomato sliced
4 slices American cheese
1. In a small bowl combine mayonnaise, mustard, pickle juice and diced pickle to make the sauce.
2. In another small bowl, combine salt, pepper and seasoned salt.
3. Loosely divide beef into four* even balls. Season each with 1/4 teaspoon of the seasoning mix.
4. If you don’t have a sturdy metal spatula, wrap a smaller cast iron skillet in foil to smash the burgers. In a large (not nonstick) skillet or on a griddle, heat 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat. When butter has melted, add onion.
5. When onions are well browned, scrape half to the side. Make two piles of the rest. Put a ball of meat atop each onion pile and smash hard for 10 seconds with the cast iron skillet or sturdy spatula, applying lots of pressure. Repeat with the remaining onions and beef.
6. Season burgers with more of the seasoning mix. Cook about 90 seconds, until juices start to bubble from the burger. Flip with a sturdy spatula, being sure to scrape up any caramelization.
7. After flipping, top burgers with cheese and continue to cook 2-3 minutes, until cooked to desired doneness, usually medium. The burger will be done when it has good caramelization.
8. While burgers cook, toast buns (in a large skillet or on the griddle) over medium heat with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Add buns, cut side down, until golden.
9. Serve burgers with sauce, lettuce and tomato. Serve immediately.
*Variation: Make eight 2-ounce patties; cook as directed, and put a cheese slice on each to make double cheese smash burgers.
Candied Jalapenos (Cowboy Candy)
For years I have wanted to share this recipe from my sister-in-law, Johnnie Trower, of Perryville, Arkansas. You will love it. You will need a water bath canner. Makes 9 half pints.
3 pounds jalapenos, fresh and firm
2 cups cider vinegar
6 cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon celery seed
3 teaspoons granulated garlic
1 teaspoon ground cayenne
1. Wearing gloves, slice stems from jalapenos. If desired, remove seeds. Discard stems and seeds.
2. Slice peppers into uniform 1/8 to ¼ inch rounds.
3. In a large pot, bring vinegar, sugar, turmeric, celery seed, granulated garlic and cayenne into a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes. Add pepper slices and simmer exactly 4 minutes.
4. With a slotted spoon, transfer peppers into clean, sterile canning jars to within ¼ inch of the upper rim of the jar.
5. Turn up heat under the pot with syrup and bring to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 6 minutes.
6. Ladle boiling syrup into jars over jalapenos. Insert a cooking chopstick to the bottom of the jar 2 or 3 times to release any trapped pockets of air. Adjust the level of syrup if necessary. Wipe rims of jars with a clean damp paper towel and fix on new, two-piece lids to fingertip tightness.
NOTE: If you have extra syrup, as you probably will, you can can it as well in half-pint or pint jars. It’s wonderful brushed on meat on the grill or added to potato salad, deviled eggs, etc. Don’t toss it out!
8. Place jars in a canner and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring water to a full rolling boil.
When water reaches a full rolling boil, set a timer for 10 minutes for half pints or 15 minutes for pints.
9. After timer goes off, use canning tongs to transfer jars to a cooling rack. Let cool, undisturbed, for 24 hours. When fully cooled, wipe with a clean, damp washcloth, then label.
10. Allow to mellow at least two weeks, or preferably a moth, before eating. Or don’t.
Robert got this recipe from joyousapron.com, where it was developed for Rhodes. Use your favorite fully cooked link sausages. For the grandkids, he likes to halve longer sausages to make smaller kolaches and completely enclose them in the dough. I like these with a bit of Dijon or Creole mustard. Makes 12.
12 Rhodes Bake-N-Serve frozen yeast dinner rolls
12 sausage links, fully cooked
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
1. Place dough balls 2-3 inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray the top of frozen dough with cooking spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 3-1/2 to 4 hours, or until about doubled in size. (Temperature of kitchen will affect rising time.)
2. Pat the sausage links dry (DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP). With a rolling pin, roll one risen dough ball into a flat oval as long as the sausage.
3. Place link on the side of the oval. Wrap dough around sausage and apply pressure to seal. Place bundle seam side down on prepared baking sheet. Repeat for the rest of dough balls and links. Place them 2 inches apart; you may need two baking sheets.
4. Let sit for 1 hour to rise. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
5. Combine egg and milk and beat well. Brush egg wash onto each pastry.
6. Bake 15-17 minutes or until top is golden brown. Serve.
7. Can be refrigerated up to 5 days; heat 20-30 seconds in microwave. May also be frozen.