Grilled Chicken Ke-babs

That would be kebabs, pronounced keh-baahbs, à la Flight of the Conchords.

Click on the image to zoom in on the uncooked skewers.

Click the photo above to get a closer look at the grill.

The keh-baahbs. Click to make them larger than life.

It’s nice outside, which means it’s time to grill.

The Recipe:
Smirnoff Ice Grilled Chicken Kebabs

small package (1-2 lbs) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 bottle Smirnoff Ice malted beverage
2 medium-large red bell peppers
garlic salt

Do This
Trim any fat from the chicken, and cut it into bite-sized cubes. Place the cubes in a plastic container (the kind with a lid), add a few shakes of pepper and salt, and pour Smirnoff Ice over the top. Put the lid on the container, stick it in the fridge, and forget about it for half an hour.
Slice up the peppers into square pieces approximately the same size as the cubes of chicken.
When the chicken has marinated for at least half an hour, pull it out of the fridge. Slide a piece of pepper onto a skewer (metal is a little bit more durable, but if you can’t find metal skewers, wood is okay) and continue to fill the skewer with alternating pieces of chicken and pepper. Make sure not to put too much on each skewer – I think I ended up with 3-4 peppers and 6-8 chicken cubes per skewer, and there were a couple inches of empty skewer at each end. Repeat until all of the chicken and pepper pieces are on skewers. 1.5 lbs of chicken should fill up 7 or 8 skewers.
Time to season. You don’t want to go overboard on the spices, because (a) they’ll probably fall off on the grill, and (b) you’ll drown out the citrusy flavor from the Smirnoff Ice. A few shakes each of black pepper, garlic salt (the kind with parsley flakes in it), and basil will make the chicken interesting but not overwhelming.
Light up your grill, and place the skewers across it as evenly as possible. If your grill is like mine, and one side is hotter than the other, you may have to get a rotation going. Chicken kebabs are a little bit frustrating for two reasons: it’s hard to get even grill exposure because of the shape of the kebabs (some parts are closer to the heat than others), and since it’s chicken, you have to cook it for seemingly forever before it’s not pink on the inside. After about ten minutes, turn each skewer a quarter-turn. Repeat until all sides of the kebab have been exposed to the grill, then cut into a piece to check for doneness. Our kebabs took about 45 minutes, but if your grill is more powerful or you have some sort of skills beyond mine, you may finish yours quicker.
Once the chicken is cooked through, remove the kebabs from the grill, slide the chicken and peppers off the skewers (or eat them on the skewers, but if you’re using the wooden kind, watch out for splinters!), and enjoy.

Yes, there’s Smirnoff Ice in this recipe. That’s in there for a reason. Something about the bubbles or the malting – I’m not actually sure, to be completely honest – deposits a nice, citrusy flavor into the chicken and makes it super moist even when grilled. I discovered its potential as a marinade liquid after my graduation party, when a random neighbor left a bottle in the fridge. Nobody wanted to drink it, so I poured it over chicken (after having achieved positive results from doing the same with an unwanted demi-bottle of airplane wine). Success. You can also cook the chicken in a pan, which takes a bit less time and locks in the citrus flavor more than grilling. I just wanted to grill because it was nice out and I like kebabs.

No, you don’t have to drink the other five bottles of Smirnoff Ice. Just save them for future grilling.


Improvised Breakfast Potatoes

First, a lesson.

This is why we use spoon rests instead of letting the spatula rest on the side of the very hot frying pan:

Alternately, this is why we have more than one spatula. Just sayin’. I was probably due for a kitchen accident, anyhow. I’ve been much too careful lately.

On to the potatoes!

My roommate just had her 24th birthday (happy birthday, roommate!), so we went out for birthday brunch at a fine Chicago brunch-ery called Toast Two. I fell in love with their breakfast potatoes, and vowed to replicate them at home, despite not having a clue how they were made. We tried hypothesizing how the people at Toast Two made their potatoes, and we’re probably way off, but the resulting recipe kinda worked out for us. Mine actually don’t taste much like the ones at Toast Two (this is the poached pear thing all over again) but they’re delicious anyhow.

Click to enlarge the tasty breakfast taters.

The Recipe:
Improvised Breakfast Potatoes
5 red potatoes
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup skim milk
1 tsp minced garlic
garlic powder

Do This
Partially peel the potatoes. This is an optional step – you can either peel them all the way or not peel them at all, but for aesthetic reasons, I went for stripes. Slice each potato in half, then slice each half into six bite-size pieces (I sliced each half into thirds, then cut across the middle). Put the potatoes in a large pot.
Pour buttermilk and milk over the potatoes. I only had skim milk in the fridge at the time, but I’m sure 2% or whole would do just as well, if not better. Add a teaspoon of minced garlic and a dash of salt and pepper, put the lid on the pot, and turn the burner to high heat.
Boil the potatoes in the milk. Ever hear that phrase, “a watched pot never boils?” Yeah, well, ignore that. You’re going to want to keep an eye on this for two reasons. (1) The milk will curdle. (2) At some point, the liquid will boil over. This could have some pretty tragic results, so I suggest watching the pot. As soon as it gets to the point of boiling over, remove the lid and turn off the heat.
Let the potatoes cool for a moment, then drain with a colander. You’ll notice two things that may be potentially discouraging: there are little milk curds floating all over the place (and probably sticking to the side of the pot…this is not a fun recipe for clean-up), and the potatoes won’t be very soft. This is where I decided to take a little shortcut: transfer the potatoes to a microwave-safe bowl (try to grab just the potatoes, not the curds) and microwave on high for about 5 minutes.
Let the potatoes cool for a few minutes while you mix the spices. Grab a small bowl and fill it with a blend of garlic powder, salt, pepper, oregano, and basil. I’m not 100% sure how much of each went into this blend, but I’d guess about 1 tbsp garlic powder, 1/2 tbsp pepper, and 1 tsp each of salt, oregano, and basil.
Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the potatoes out on the baking sheet with a spatula. Pick out any remaining curds (or if you’re lucky, have your roommate do this) and sprinkle the spices over top of the potatoes. There will most likely be too much of the spice blend, but be generous.
Turn your broiler on high and place the baking sheet in. Broil for five minutes, take the baking sheet out, flip the potatoes over with a spatula, and broil for another five minutes. The potatoes should be lightly browned.
Serve with your favorite breakfast foods. I reccomend eggs over-easy, bacon, and toast.

These potatoes are soft on the inside but lightly crispy on the outside. They also taste super buttery, even though there isn’t any butter in the recipe.

A word of caution: these are very messy to make, and they take a little bit more time than I was hoping (even with my shortcuts). On the plus side, they taste just as good reheated in the microwave, so I don’t think I’d mind making a giant batch and saving some leftovers for other breakfasts.

Another lesson: buttermilk and your stove are not friends. I posted the recipe as-is because that’s how I made these potatoes. If you want to make life much easier, use plain old Vitamin D milk, which is less persnickety. Instead, soak the potatoes in buttermilk for a bit right after boiling them (drain the water out, transfer the potatoes to a bowl, pour buttermilk over top as they cool, drain buttermilk, continue with spices and baking as directed above).

Fun with Marzipan!

Click on the image to zoom in on the cupcakes.

Some friends were throwing a Memorial Day BBQ, and I couldn’t exactly show up sans cupcakes. Festive cupcakes. But I’d already done red, white, & blue cupcakes, so the only logical solution (of course) was marzipan.

I’ve never made marzipan before. I’ve seen it a few times. I’ve watched cooking shows and learned (well, as much as one can really learn from tv) how to make pretty marzipan fruits, but that was mostly shaping and painting, not the actual creation of the marzipan. I did, however, have a handy dandy little cake-centric cookbook that I picked up on wicked sale at the Barnes & Noble at school, and there just happened to be a recipe for marzipan on page 247. Awesome. That recipe actually didn’t work out so well for me, but with some modifications, I ended up with a passable recipe for rolled marzipan.

I’ve decided that real marzipan requires almonds which have been peeled before being ground into powder. I used the store-bought variety of almonds – which are extra convenient for people like me who don’t have the equipment for grinding almonds into a fine powder – and my marzipan had dark brown flecks in it. Nothing tragic, just an aesthetic concern.

I also learned that this particular recipe does not agree with spatulas. Check out Mr. Depressed Starfish:

Yeah. He didn’t want to come off the spatula. At all.

Anyways…on to the recipe!

The Recipe:
Rolled Marzipan Stars

2 cups finely ground almonds
1 cup superfine sugar (I may have copied this down incorrectly…will update when I get home)
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla (the original recipe called for almond extract, but I was out…oops)
1 egg
3+ cups confectioner’s sugar (just keep the bag handy)

Do This
In a large bowl, combine almonds, superfine sugar, and 2 cups of confectioner’s sugar. Make a well in the center, and add the egg and liquid ingredients. Blend with a wooden spoon, but if it gets too sticky, just knead into a dough with your hands.
This is where it comes in handy to have a friend in the kitchen. The dough is bound to be way too sticky to work with, so have someone on hand to spoon in more confectioner’s sugar, a tablespoon or two at a time. Keep kneading the dough/adding sugar as needed until it’s workable and un-sticky, and roughly the texture of soft sugar cookie dough.
Divide the dough in two (or further, if you’re doing more than two colors). I used regular grocery-store food coloring (nothing too special – no candy colors or gel-based dye) to dye the marzipan red and blue. Put a few tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar in a bowl, and drop in 15-20 drops of food coloring. It seems like a lot, but you’ll need at least that much for bright colors. Mix the food coloring into the sugar until it forms a light paste, then incorporate the dye paste into the marzipan. Yes, dye will get on your hands. No, this is not the end of the world – it washes off, and lemon juice makes it wash off more quickly. Have fun playing with your grown-up playdough, and add a few drops of food coloring as needed. If the dough gets sticky, add more confectioner’s sugar. When the dough is the color you want it to be, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for about a half hour.
Tear off two large pieces of plastic wrap, and place the marzipan between them. The plastic wrap will save your rolling pin from being stained with food dye. Roll the marzipan flat to about 1/8″ thickness, then peel off the top layer of plastic.
If you have cookie cutters, use them. I don’t, for some bizarre reason, so I had to do this part with a knife and a stencil made out of freezer paper. Cut out a shape, then peel back the marzipan and transfer the shape to a piece of freezer paper while you cut out the rest. Don’t try to spatula them off – they will stick, and your pretty, angular stars will look like depressed starfish once you pry them off the spatula. If you haven’t frosted your cupcakes yet, let the marzipan shapes hang out in the fridge while you do that.
Frost cupcakes, and top with pretty marzipan shapes. Refrigerate until served.

The marzipan is pretty and exciting, but – much like fondant or any other decorative icing – may be a wee bit too much. Don’t feel bad if you take a bite and decide to peel the rest of the star off.

Feel-better Chicken Orzo Soup

Last week, when my roommate got sick, I made her soup. In return, she gave me…her cold. And while that acorn squash soup is wonderful, this cold is hitting me like a truck, so it’s time to bring out the big guns.

Chicken soup.

Click to zoom in on the mug of yummy chicken soup.

The Recipe:
Feel-better Chicken Orzo Soup

3.5 lbs chicken half-breasts (with bone, skin, and everything)
1 can (14.5 oz) chicken broth
1 tsp minced garlic
1/8 cup white wine
1/8 cup lemon juice
2 cups chopped celery
2 cups chopped carrots
1-2 cups orzo (I used 2, but my soup is VERY full of orzo)
water (filtered, if you’ve got it)
olive oil

Do This
Preheat the oven to 375. Rinse off the chicken and lightly brush with olive oil. Sprinkle with pepper and salt, and place in a foil-lined baking pan. Bake for 25 minutes. Note: the chicken will not be cooked all the way through at this point – it will finish cooking in the soup pot.
While the chicken is baking, chop the celery and carrots. When the chicken has been baking for about 20 minutes, pour the white wine and lemon juice into a large stock pot (mine is 20 qt) and place on the stove over low heat. Add the minced garlic and simmer for a few minutes.
Remove the chicken from the oven and allow to cool for a moment. Add the chicken broth, celery, and carrots, as well as a few shakes each of salt, pepper, and basil. Don’t throw out the can the broth came in yet (if you’re using broth that didn’t come from a can, you’re a much better sick person than I am, and for that you’ll have to settle for using a measuring cup for water later on).
Slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces, and add these to the pot. Discard the bones and skin. Find the chicken broth can from earlier, fill it with water, and add to the batch. Repeat six more times. I like to use filtered water because it makes me feel like I’m being extra-healthy, but tap water is probably just fine. Add the orzo to the pot. Add a dash of nutmeg, put the lid on the pot, and allow the soup to cook for ten more minutes.
Serve hot, but not so hot that the soup hurts your sore throat.

If you put a lot of orzo in this soup, it will soak up the broth and you’ll likely have to add some extra water to any leftover batches you may have. I also suggest adding a handful of fresh chopped celery and carrots (for some reason, there are never enough vegetables in my leftovers). Enjoy, and feel better!

Feel-better Strawberry-Pineapple Smoothies

Bonus! The Boyfriend is also skilled at making treats for alleviating sore throats and other un-fun things.

The Recipe:
Strawberry-pineapple Smoothies

1/4 pineapple
16 oz strawberry yogurt
1/2 lb frozen strawberries
1 banana
ice cubes

Do This
Fill the blender halfway with ice cubes and pour strawberry yogurt over top. Blend until ice is crushed, then add frozen strawberries, banana, and fresh pineapple. Blend until smooth.

So simple, but it’s delicious and absolutely perfect when your throat is swollen and you need a pick-me-up.

Feel-better Acorn Squash Soup

My lovely roommate is exhausted and overworked, and she managed to catch the mother of all colds this week. While Emergen-C is great, it’s not food.

And so…Feel-better Acorn Squash Soup.

Click on the photo to zoom in on the soup in the pretty CB2 martini glass.

This takes less than a half hour to make, and the squash is packed with Vitamin C and beta carotene. My roommate says that this soup reminds her of sweet oatmeal, except it’s squash soup-flavored.

The Recipe:
Feel-better Acorn Squash Soup

1 acorn squash
1 can chicken broth
1/4 cup skim milk (I’d use a heavier milk if I had it, though – skim was in our fridge)
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp basil
1/2 tsp pepper
dash of cinnamon
1 tbsp dark brown sugar

Do This
Slice the acorn squash into quarters, and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Place the squash into a deep, microwave-safe bowl (I used a big Tupperware container) and pour an inch or two of water over the squash pieces. Microwave for ten minutes. If the squash is soft enough that it easily scoops out with a spoon (think of ice cream that’s been sitting out on the counter for a few minutes), it’s done. If not, pop it back in the microwave for another few minutes until it’s that soft. Mine took a total of sixteen minutes, yours will probably vary based on your microwave.
Drain the water from the bowl and allow the squash to cool for a moment. When it’s not too hot to touch, pick up each piece and use a spoon to scoop the squash away from the skin, into a medium-large soup pot. At this point, the squash is about the texture of applesauce. Use a potato-masher to break it up just a bit more. I thought about putting the squash in the blender to purée it, but a soft-but-slightly-lumpy texture works out really well.
Pour the can of chicken broth into the pot with the squash, and turn the burner to medium-high. Cook for a few minutes, until the broth gets a little bit bubbly, pour in the milk, and lower the heat to medium-low. Add in the garlic powder, basil, and pepper, and stir. Turn off the heat. Add in the brown sugar, and stir it in while the soup is still hot.

Serve hot in your favorite bowl or mug, or chilled in a pretty martini glass. It’s good either way, although the hot version is more soothing to a sore throat.

p.s. Roommate, there’s still some left in the fridge if you want it later.

Candy Striping…I mean…Cookie Striping

Plain sugar cookies are boring. Plus, I seem to really enjoy making two-toned foods. So…chocolate-striped sugar cookies!

Excuse the photo quality. My usual camera’s battery died this morning, so I had to resort to the backup, and I am sans photo-editing software at work.

The Recipe:
Striped Sugar Cookies

2 sticks unsalted butter
3 eggs
2 ½ cups sugar
3 ½ cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp cocoa powder

Do This
Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Gradually add in the flour and baking powder, until the resulting dough is thick and thoroughly blended. Divide the dough in half. Wrap one portion in plastic and set aside. Add 3 tbsp of cocoa powder to the other portion of dough, and knead until the cocoa is blended evenly into the dough. Wrap this portion in plastic as well, and place both the chocolate dough and the regular dough in the refrigerator. Allow the dough to chill for several hours, or just forget about it overnight.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Unwrap the cookie dough, and break off pieces of dough slightly smaller than your fist. I have a pretty average-sized fist, and I ended up with 8 pieces of chocolate dough and 9 pieces of plain. I was hoping for equal amounts, but it appears that I wasn’t too precise when I halved the dough in the first place.
Roll out each ball of dough to approximately ¼” thickness. If you chilled it overnight, it might be difficult to work with at first, but a little bit of kneading will bring the dough back to a workable temperature. Try to roll each piece to the same shape and dimensions – this will make the next step much easier.

Stack the dough, alternating chocolate and plain pieces. Use a knife to slice the dough vertically in segments of about ¼”. Pushing directly downward will cause the stripes to bend, so use a sawing motion.

Lightly roll out each segment. It helps to place a piece of plastic wrap between the rolling pin and the dough – less mess! Grab a cookie cutter (or the top of a glass, if you don’t have cookie cutters) and cut out as many cookies as you can for each slice of striped dough. Carefully place the cut out circles on a baking sheet, and bake for 8-10 minutes. You’ll want to watch the cookies while they’re baking (or at least for the final 3 minutes or so) to make sure that you remove them from the oven before the plain-dough stripes turn brown.

Some notes:

If you want perfect, straight stripes, there are two things (that I didn’t do) that you can do to make that happen. (1) Actually roll out each piece of dough to the same thickness. Mine were mostly consistent, but I didn’t measure or anything, and judging by the final result, there were some pieces that were rolled out a bit thicker than others. (2) Don’t press down on the stack of dough when you slice off the striped pieces. This makes the stripes bend a bit, and pushing down on the stack doesn’t really do much to help the slicing process, anyhow.

If you’re more creative than I am, you’ll probably be able to find something fun to do with the little bits of dough that are left after each cookie-cutting. I was feeling a little bit lazy, so I just mixed the dough very gently, rolled it out again, and made marble-y cookies. Per Amberance’s suggestion, I might make chessboard cookies in the future.

This recipe yields a LOT of cookies. Well, a lot for me – at least 3 dozen. I’m not sure how this happened, because I halved my usual sugar cookie recipe. I suspect that it’s because I’ve only ever made sugar cookies in bulk.