I think this entry falls into the “I never promised you haute cuisine” category, in which I have to remind myself that I’m not writing this to show off my cooking skill. Nope. I’m writing this to create something of a family recipe book, accessible online to all the kids who have favorite meals or who might want to cook something from home once they’re out on their own. As I get closer to my goal of 100 recipes (which may or may not be the end of the experiment), it’s helping me to adjust how I think about my capability and imagination.
Grilling is a pretty nifty way to prepare foods in the summertime – way fewer dishes and a cooler kitchen are only two of the benefits. I love creating a little bit of a picnic on the patio, and somehow everybody wants to be more involved when fire is involved. It just creates something of an atmosphere I can’t describe, but love anyway.
I used to be a little bit pyro-phobic myself . . . until about two years ago, when I had to be the “fire master” for my daughter’s Girl Scout camping trip. The girls had planned a weekend of food to be cooked over the fire, the leaders had purchased all the groceries, and then – on the morning of our arrival at the campsite – they all looked to me, because I’m the one married to a Boy Scout leader. Apparently, girl-child had volunteered me for this task with absolute confidence in me, but without mentioning it prior to our arrival. Um, I said. I’d certainly watched enough scout bonfires being built and read enough of the fire-building merit badge requirements (or whatever) to understand it in theory. So, faced with the shining faces of a good dozen or so girls and their moms, I decided to *pretend* that I wasn’t scared at all. And it worked! We all learned some great skills and ate well, thankyouverymuch.
I don’t build every fire we have these days, but I’m much more likely to encourage having one, and we’ve been talking a lot about how great it would be to have a fire pit in the back yard. Yesterday, my husband bought one. And last night, we COOKED DINNER with it. Specifically, we cooked food onna stick.
There are a lot of ways to prepare food on the grill, but I’m going to talk right now my love for kebabs. They’re easy to scale for a small meal or a larger one, the endless variety of ingredients lets me serve a lot of food groups in one shot, and the smaller size means it’s easier to be sure something is cooked thoroughly in a shorter amount of time. It’s sort of the “random vegetable soup” or “dinner omelet” of the grilling world, I think.
Let’s say right off that you can probably kebab just about anything, so what I’ll describe here sure isn’t the only way to do it . . . feel free to riff on your own theme and use what’s handy for you. Here are the basics:
- Skewers: If you’re going to use wooden skewers, make sure you soak them in water for some time before building your kebabs, to keep them from burning. We use the metal ones because it breaks my husband’s Scottish heart to see me throw away wooden skewers after only one use (and because I hate cleaning them).
- An assortment of veggies and fruits to skewer: Last night, we used grape tomatoes, button mushrooms, onions, and pineapple chunks. If everything is cut to about the same size, it’ll (theoretically) cook in about the same amount of time. I like using grape tomatoes because regular tomatoes get all drippy when you slice them up. Also, I think red onions seem to work better than other onions for this purpose. Husband prefers the “meatier” mushrooms like Portobello.
- Meat, if you like it, cut into chunks. (True confession: We’ve made low-brow kebabs with just Spam and pineapple chunks, brushed with barbecue sauce. It was AMAZING, no lie.
- Some sort of marinade for the meat.* I marinated the chicken for about an hour before. Some folks like to marinate the meat for 4-8 hours or even overnight, but we were just too overcome with spontaneity for that shit.
- Maybe a flavored sauce to brush on the kebabs while they cook. Plain barbecue sauce usually works just fine, though we didn’t use any last night. I forgot to set it out, and everything was just fine without it.
- Nice coals.** Don’t rush the coals. You want the flames to have died down so you’ve got a nice, shimmery heat coming off them. (One of those charcoal chimney starter things works really well to move the process along a bit faster.) Use a poker to smooth them out into a bed a few inches below the surface of your cooking grate. That’s what gives you even cooking. For what it’s worth, the amount of time it took me to chop up all the veggies and marinate the chicken was about the amount of time it took for the coals to be ready. (Don’t get me wrong: This is not difficult cooking. But, unless you’ve got a propane grill, this is not a meal for the impatient.)
The portions for last night’s meal were too large for me to use my adorable little ramekins for the ingredients – so we used cereal bowls to set up our “assembly line” instead. I wish I’d gotten a picture of all the amazing colors. Assembling the kebabs doesn’t take a lot of skill. Simply build each kebab by sliding a succession of yummy things onto the skewer. You’ll want to leave an inch or two of space at each end so there’s something for your tools to grab as you move the skewers around. Otherwise, go crazy. Most folks will work their way down the line of bowls, creating a pattern. Like maybe:
Meat Veggie Pineapple Mushroom Meat Another veggie
It keeps them from sticking to the grate if you brush it with a little oil first, or spray with with Pam or something. Don’t move them around too much, but rotate them a bit at a time until they’re nice and cooked all the way ‘round. You may want to check the done-ness of the meat the first few times, just until you get the hang of how long it’ll take.
One skewer per person is a good serving size to start with, but most of our family will end up eating two (sometimes three!) each. You could even make breakfast kebabs or dessert kebabs, if you like. They even make easy leftovers – just wrap them up in foil, skewer and all, to reheat in the oven later. Enjoy!
* I think we’ve talked about marinades here before. Super-easy and very forgiving of mild errors and experimentation. If you’re in any doubt, go ahead and Google “homemade marinade” for a lot of resources. Give it a shot. You’ll be making your own in no time! Just remember to discard any marinade that’s been in contact with raw meat. You should NOT use the marinade to brush the kebabs while they cook. If you like, however, you can double the recipe and *set aside* some of the mixture when you first make it, so there will be a “clean” sauce to use when the kebabs are grilling. Got it?
** In a pinch, kebabs can be made on an indoor (stovetop) grill or even our trusty George Foreman grill.