imagesqqAhhhh, the 4th of July celebration. This is one of those iconic holidays where those of us who cook, fancy ourselves spending the day manning the grill, favorite drink in hand, serving family and friends those outdoor classics… S-T-O-P (insert loud screeching of brakes)!  Really?  You want to stand out in 100+ heat, directly in front of a 600-degree grill, cooking?  And if you have a nice, shiny stainless grill, did you factor in the added bonus of its extreme, eye-searing reflection?

Perhaps this is the year to take a new approach to the July 4th holiday, declaring independence from an idyllic culinary notion that works well in Oregon, but not so much here in Arizona.  If you’re wondering what you could cook in an air-conditioned kitchen that thrills the outdoor palate while leaving you “unbaked,” then do two things.  One – don’t let friends or family read this article; you won’t want them to know how ridiculously easy it was to make such delicious fare.  Two – read on to learn two (formerly) secret recipes for fabulous “barbeque” sandwiches – not to mention the very best method for making amazing coleslaw to serve alongside.

Before we go further, lets get a few basics out of the way, like your choice of sandwich buns.  You’re saving time, bypassing self-inflicted heat exhaustion, and unless you were serving hot dogs, you’ll be saving $$ by shifting to this menu.  So don’t go cheap on the buns!  Get the best by heading to a great bakery that specializes in bread, like Karsh’s, Wildflower, or AZ Bread Company.  At the very least, get fresh-baked buns from Costco (their pretzel buns are actually quite good).  Sorry, but school cafeteria-quality buns won’t cut it.

A side note on buns.  Don’t be afraid to purchase dinner-roll sized buns, instead of traditional full-sized versions.  People often prefer smaller sandwiches, especially if there is more than one filling option.  That gives them room to try both!

Another basic, don’t be afraid to add a little extra effort when it reaps amazing results.  Case in point, that July 4th staple, coleslaw.  For the very best coleslaw that won’t dilute the dressing or leave a puddle on your plate, buy pre-cut cabbage/carrot combo, then follow the salting step I’ve included below that “melts” out excess liquid and renders the cabbage crisp and wonderfully seasoned.

Now for the menu… The requisite chips and dips to start of course, then onto the main deal – scrumptious and intense Barbeque Beef sandwiches, along with equally delectable, Pulled Chicken Pesto Sandwiches. Because the meat for both of these has been tossed with their own seasonings (barbecue sauce for the beef and a zesty cilantro pesto for the chicken), you probably won’t even need to worry about putting out condiments like mayo, ketchup, mustard, etc.

Finish by adding great coleslaw, potato salad (tips to follow) and your favorite easy dessert, like the finger-food sundaes pictured here.  You’ll have a memorable feast – sans the heat exhaustion!

strawberry pineapple bananaBARBECUE BEEF: Rich and intense, this recipe will become your go-to hearty meal for just about any occasion that requires feeding a large group. Serves 8 (hopefully, with leftovers!)

4 – 5 lbs chuck roast, boneless & cut into 4-5-inch chunks

1 large onion

1 packet Onion Soup mix

2 cubes Kosher beef bouillon dissolved in 1 1/2 cups hot water (must be the Kosher version or the seasoning won’t be as intense)


1.         Chop onion and sprinkle onto the bottom of a crock pot.  Place a single layer of the beef on top of the onions, then sprinkle with 1/2 of the soup mix. Repeat until all beef is in the pot.

 2.         Pour the beef bouillon over the top, cover and cook on low 12 hours, or until the beef falls apart.

3.         Remove beef from pot using a large slotted spatula or spoon.  Pull the beef into shreds.

4.         While shredding the meat, reduce by half, the remaining juices in a saucepan.  Remove from heat and stir in a bottle of your favorite barbecue sauce.  Put the meat and sauce back into the crock pot and keep warm until guests arrive, or combine then refrigerate and reheat in the crockpot.  Yes, it really is that simple!

Note: If you ever have to cook for a really big crowd, you can prepare this in one of those large, electric Nesco roasters!

PULLED CHICKEN PESTO SANDWICHES: It doesn’t get any tastier – or easier – than Costco’s roasted chicken. That’s right, you don’t even have to cook the chicken! Serves 8.

Cilantro Pesto

4 cups lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves

3 large garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 cup toasted green pumpkin seeds or almonds

1/3 cup crumbled cotija cheese (Romano can be substituted if necessary)

1/2 lime, juiced

1 green chile, roasted, peeled and seeded (canned is just fine!)

1/2 – 2/3 cup olive oil

2 roasted chickens


1.         Combine all pesto ingredients in a food processor; process until smooth. Set aside until ready to use.

2.         Remove and pull apart the breast, wing, leg and thigh meat of the chicken.  Discard the skin and save the bones to make a nice batch of soup later in the week.

3.         Toss the shredded chicken with the pesto and place in a glass baking dish.  Refrigerate.  When ready to serve, warm the meat by sprinkling with 1/3 cup water, sealing the top with foil and placing it in a 300º  oven until hot, about 20-25 minutes.

MBRThe Crispest Coleslaw: You will need a large colander (or 2 medium colanders) for this.  Purchase a large package of pre-cut cabbage/carrot mix, or shred the following combination:

1 large head green cabbage (or two small)

1 medium head purple cabbage

4 large carrots

1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped

2 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt (must be kosher salt – table salt will not work)

1/2 cup finely chopped green onion

your favorite coleslaw dressing


1.         Combine the cabbage, carrot and onion in a large bowl.  Sprinkle with the kosher salt, tossing well and “rubbing” the cabbage to insure the salt gets into its surface.

2.         Place in a large colander; set colander in a shallow pan and allow to sit 4-6 hours, vigorously pressing and squeezing occasionally to remove excess moisture every hour or so.  If you really work the salt into the cabbage in the beginning, you can let this sit overnight to avoid doing quite as much squeezing and pressing.

3.         When ready to dress coleslaw, press and squeeze the mixture really well – one handful at a time – in order to get out all the extra moisture.

4.         Place the cabbage in a serving bowl, add finely minced green onion and your favorite dressing. Toss well and serve!

Note: Since leftovers won’t get soggy and you can enjoy this coleslaw for days afterwards, only put out what you think will be eaten immediately and keep the remainder in the refrigerator.

Tip for the best potato salad EVER! The ingredients are invariably the same, potatoes, chopped eggs, onions, green onion, mayo, parsley and/or celery, and sometimes a touch of mustard.

The key to a really great potato salad is found in the proportions. If using medium to small potatoes, be sure to add one egg for every potato; if using large potatoes, 2 eggs per potato. To kick it up a notch (remember, this is not a day for dieting), add finely chopped cooked bacon.

You’ll be amazed at the difference following those simple proportions will make! To make things even faster, purchase pre-cooked hard-boiled eggs and save yourself the cooking and peeling. If you’d prefer to simply purchase potato salad, stir in a few chopped hard-boiled eggs and a little chopped green onion. It will taste like you made it yourself!

imagesCATUU9T0Candy Lesher is the chef and owner of Baci d’Amore Truffles and Scones, a boutique company that produces luscious Belgium chocolate truffles along with moist and melting-tender, ready-to-bake frozen scones. You can reach Candy at 480-266-0701 or email