At Craig Morgan's house, preparing a barbecue is a team effort. While wife Karen and daughter Alex make side dishes inside, Craig grills up marinated venison tips—his own hunting spoils—with "right-hand man" oldest son Kyle, 16, by his side, and the "young ones," sons Jerry, 11, and Wyatt, 10, his "runners," nearby. Behind a high-tech gas grill that "can cook meat three times faster" than his old charcoal model, Craig is in his element. "Now that we can afford to buy some of the cool tools," he says, "I love to cook."
In fact, when he's touring, there's nothing the "That's What I Love About Sunday" singer looks forward to more than making a home-cooked meal for his brood, especially when Alex, a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, is home for a visit. For the first 16 years of their marriage, Craig, 43, a former Army paratrooper, and Karen, 40, called military bases and single-wide trailers home. But after Morgan hit it big on the country charts, he and Karen began looking for land to build their dream house on, and in 2004 settled on a 60-acre spread in Dickson, Tenn. Now, as they celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary this summer, the Morgans live on a sprawling spread which boasts a multistory home, an indoor archery range and a labyrinth of dirt-bike trails for Kyle, a passionate rider. "The pastor and his wife who sold us our first 10 acres are our only neighbors for more than a mile!" says Karen.
At home, Craig and Karen prepare meals with fresh, organic ingredients. "We've always had a garden—it's the way I was raised—so we keep a garden here," he says. "We bought a compost bin, and this year we're turning the soil so next year we'll have a very big organic garden." He also makes homemade sashimi from the bass he catches ("I call it redneck sushi," he says) and bow-hunts game to eat. "Venison can be a little dry, so for burgers I have the meat processor add a little fat from organically fed beef. And one of my favorite things Karen makes is this casserole with the wild turkey I hunt—now that's organic!"
But when it comes to cooking, Craig doesn't let Karen have all the fun. "He likes to make big breakfasts for everybody when he's home," Karen says. As for the grill, Craig keeps his top-of-the-line gas number by the pool, so that "while I grill, we can all hang out," he says. When the food is ready, the family gathers round the table for a blessing, then digs in. "I'm happy just to have everyone there. It's important to us that we eat together," he says, "as a family."
Hands-on time: 37 min.
Total time: 2 hrs., 37 min.
¾ cup bottled steak marinade
2½ to 3 pounds venison or beef sirloin steak cut into 1½-inch cubes
12-inch wooden skewers
8-oz. 1-inch cheddar cubes
6 jalapeño peppers, quartered
6 slices bacon
6 almond-stuffed olives
1 red pepper, cut into 1½ inch pieces
1 large red onion, cut into 1½ inch pieces
1. Pour ½ cup marinade into large zip-top plastic freezer bag. Add meat cubes to bag and seal; chill 2 hrs.
2. Soak skewers in water 30 min. Preheat grill to 450° to 500° (high). Drain meat; stack 1 cube of meat, cheese and jalapeño together. Wrap with bacon slice. Repeat with remaining beef, cheese and jalapeños. Skewer olive, red pepper and red onion; add 3 bacon-wrapped meat stacks. Add onion and red pepper pieces. Repeat with remaining kabobs.
3. Grill covered for 10 to 12 min., basting with reserved ¼ cup marinade and turning often.
MILK CHOCOLATE BAR CAKE
Makes 1 (3-layer) cake
Hands-on time: 45 min.
Total time: 1 hr., 50 min.
1 (18.25-oz.) package Swiss chocolate cake mix
1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
10 (1.5-oz.) milk chocolate candy bars with almonds, divided
1 (12-oz.) container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare cake batter according to package directions. Pour into 3 greased and floured 8-inch round cake pans.
2. Bake for 20 to 25 min. or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 min. Remove from pans and cool 30 min. on racks.
3. Beat cream cheese, powdered sugar and granulated sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until mixture is creamy.
4. Chop 8 candy bars finely. Fold cream cheese mixture and candy into whipped topping.
5. Spread icing between layers and on top and sides of cake. Chop remaining 2 candy bars; sprinkle over top and sides of cake, pressing gently. Garnish with strawberry, if desired. Cover and chill.