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So I’m having some fun with Alicia’s Mother’s Day dinner. Here’s the plan.


Appetizer: Cheese plate of Brie and Gorgonzola served with various types of pears, dehydrated cranberries, walnuts, almonds, kalamata olives, and tomato slices. Triscuits serve as the delivery mechanism. (Those new dill, sea salt, and olive oil ones are highly addictive.)

Fruit Salad: Nothing fancy, just threw together some mango, raspberries, blackberries, and bananas, and topped with a little lime juice to reduce oxidation.

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Side: I haven’t decided whether I’m going to roast or steam/boil, but I’m going to make some asparagus (a favorite in our house), but this time I’m going to top it with salt and a hollandaise sauce. I’m borrowing the sauce recipe from here

Entre: Chicken breasts stuffed with a cream cheese, green onion, garlic, and red bell pepper mixture, then wrapped in bacon and baked. I’m pretty excited about the use of bacon.

LibationsFlirt California red wine, 2009--we cheated and started on this one last night, and Belleruche Cotes du Rhone, 2009.

 
 
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I grilled shish kebobs for the first time tonight.  Below is the recipe as well as a few lessons learned.

Ingredients
  • Meat (I used beef and shrimp, but more on that later)
  • Veggies (whatever you like; I used bell peppers, vidalia onions, zucchini, fingerling potatoes, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, and sweet yellow baby tomatoes)
Marinade
These measurements are arbitrary just to give an idea of the ratios.  Increase or decrease depending on the number of kebobs you're making.
  • 1/2 c lime juice
  • 1/2 c dry white wine
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/2 - 1 bunch of cilantro, chopped fine
  • 1 - 1 1/2 t chipotle chili powder
  • 1 t garlic powder
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 inch piece of grated ginger
  • touch of black pepper
  • touch of honey

Dice the meat and vegetables into approximately 1" cubes/pieces and parboil or blanch the denser vegetables for about 5 minutes (potatoes mostly, but you can do the peppers and zucchini if you don't want them as crunchy).  Put all the marinade ingredients together and stir well.  Combine the meat and veggies in a ziploc and pour the marinade over them, squeezing out the excess air.  Let sit, flipping the bag(s) over occasionally, ideally for 1-3 hours.  Then skewer the meat and vegetables alternating them, but hold the tomatoes back.  They need to be put on a separate skewer and put on the grill toward the end or on an upper rack because they will cook very fast.  Preheat the grill till it is very hot (10 minutes on high for a gas grill) and add the kebobs.  Grill them with the lid OPEN.  This is direct heat cooking; you're not baking shish kebobs.  Turn them about every 3-4 minutes and watch for hotspots.  You may have to move some from the edges to the center and vice versa.  If you don't know whether your grill has hotspots you will after cooking kebobs.  Cook until done, probably about 12-16 minutes.  Take off, cover in foil for 5-8 minutes to finish, and enjoy.

Lessons Learned
  • It's not a great idea to do beef and shrimp together.  The beef takes longer to cook than anything else and while the vegetables can tolerate getting a little crispy (and you may even like them that way as I do), the shrimp cannot.  It will dry out and become tough.  (I also used pre-cooked shrimp, so perhaps raw would have had a more similar cooking time to the beef.)
  • I used beef stew meat because I had picked some up cheap from the grocery store and it is already cut into the right size pieces.  It works okay, but tends to be tough.  A better cut (like a top round) would make for better kebobs.
  • This was a last minute idea and so I only marinated my ingredients for about 30 minutes.  That's really not long enough.  The flavors are bold and the marinade very acidic so they are picked up quickly (especially by the more delicate shrimp), but I think 1-3 hours or more of marinading would make a lot of difference.
  • A lot of folks recommend either double skewering or buying the metal double skewers, because when you try to turn single skewered kebobs the skewer tends to turn while the contents stay in place.  I think double skewering with bamboo skewers would be a pain, but the double skewers would probably be a worthwhile (minimal) investment if you were going to do this much.
  • Finally, you do not need much of any one ingredient.  We went way overboard without realizing it and had enough kebobs to feed ten people.  Underestimate, because the number of different meat and veggies you are using will add up.  But hey, who can complain about kebob leftovers?

 
 
Ingredients
(Note: You can take out or add just about any veggies you want)
8 cups of water
6 bouillon cubes
4 med chicken breasts
3 carrots
3 sticks of celery w/ leaves
2 turnips
2 potatoes
1 onion
1 bunch of green onions
1 leek
1 -2 handfuls of chopped mushrooms
3 large green chilis (seeded)
2 cans of black beans (drained and rinsed)
1 can of peas (drained and rinsed)
1 can of diced tomatoes (not drained)
1 can of green chilis (not drained)

Spices
Note: Season to taste, and use what you like.  This is what I used, roughly in order of how much I used, but you can experiment.  However, don't be afraid to use a lot of spices (as in many and large quantities).  You are making a big batch of soup and want a nice savory broth to infuse that chicken and all those veggies.  I didn't use less than a teaspoon of any of these things (except maybe the cayenne) and some of them I used several teaspoons of.
Oregano
Thyme
Sage
Paprika
Garlic Powder
Bay Leaves (2-3)
Black Pepper
Cumin
Cayenne (just a little for a kick)

Cooking
It's pretty simple.  Put your water with bouillon cubes in a pot and get it boiling.  Add a generous helping of all your spices except for the cumin and cayenne as the water is warming up.  Chop your chicken breasts and dump them in.  While they're cooking in the boiling broth for a few minutes chop up your veggies (I used a food processor which saves a ton of time although it tends to chop them fairly small if you aren't really careful).  Add the vegetables and the canned ingredients.  Keep stirring and letting the soup cook at a pretty good boil.  After a few minutes take a taste, and add more spices as needed.  This is also the time to add cumin and cayenne.  I say to wait because these are such potent flavors that you want to be able to get a sense of where the flavor of the soup is already at and only add them as necessary.  Otherwise you run the risk of overpowering everything else and/or making your soup much spicier than you might have intended.


There it is.  This makes a hearty, fairly thick soup, but not quite a stew.  I served it with some long-grain brown rice that can be added to create a kind of gumbo texture.
 
 
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This is a recipe that I worked out tonight.  Although I ran into a few hitches I think I've got if figured out.

Ingredients
3 pork steaks (1" thick or greater)
1/2 pound medium/thick sliced bacon
1 yellow apple (sliced approx 1/4" thick)
balsamic vinaigrette
rosemary
savory herbs
crushed red pepper

Pat the pork steaks dry with paper towels.  Then coat them in a bit of balsamic vinaigrette.  Dust them with some dried rosemary, and whatever other savory herbs or blends you'd like.  (I cheated and used a pork seasoning blend with some additional rosemary and it was fine.)  You can lay some fresh sage leaves on if you like.  Finally dust them with just a little bit of crushed red pepper to balance out the sweetness of the apples and balsamic and give them a bit of kick.  Then place a slice of apple on both sides of each steak.  Finally wrap the pork steaks in two to three pieces of bacon apiece, using toothpicks to secure the bacon.  (In a pinch you can use spaghetti for this (as I had to), but only in a pinch, as it tends to not hold throughout the grilling process.  Now your pork steaks are prepared.  (One other hint: if you are not a purist, you can throw some meat tenderizer on at the beginning to soften your steaks up a bit.)

To cook the steaks, first heat your grill up to about 350-400º F.  Then, unless you either have some excellent method for preventing flame-ups, or your grill is capable of cooking very hot indirectly put a piece of foil over the burners you will be using.  Alternatively, and ideally, I think you could put a shallow drip pan under the grates but over the burners which would both serve as a flame deterrent and catch those wonderful bacony, appley, juices.  However you do it, just make sure you account for the flames caused by grilling bacon.  The foil on top of the grate method works well because it allows the bacon to essentially fry in its own juices against the pork steaks.

Cook the steaks for between 10-20 minutes per side, depending on direct/indirect, etc.  The  point is to hit the 145º F internal temp  you want for pork.  Pull them off and cover them with foil for 10-15 minutes to steep in their juices.

Enjoy each juicy bite with a bit of roasted apple and bacon and serve with a good medium dry to citrusy white wine.  Mmm.