Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Kabobing with the Greeks

According to the calendar, the season of spring began on March 19th this year, a day earlier than usual, and in a leap year as well.  Overall, the year 2020 has been a challenge for its first four months, and we’re all wondering where the reset button is.  Weather wise, many states, including Utah, were still seeing cold temperatures, snow and hail.

Then May 1st came, Beltane, the midpoint between the beginning of spring and summer.  The ancient Celtic meaning is “bright fire”, so what better way to celebrate then to barbecue!  With the pandemic continuing, rules of engagement constantly changing, and challenging; it can be difficult to cope in a positive way.

Go outside!  Yes, you can still be safe, at home, but outside in your own backyard, or on the front lawn, on the balcony or patio.  But, go outside!  Look up, see the clouds, what forms can you imagine?  Look at the plant life, flowering buds on the trees, small leaves unfolding to capture dew drops and shafts of sunlight.

This is personal mental and emotional nourishment; food for the mind and soul.  With the body itself, time to fire up the grill and imagine the culinary possibilities.  Of cooking food…not your body!  Come on now, no one can possibly be at the point of cannibalism yet!?!

Let’s take it to the Greeks, and grill up kabobs, or what they refer to as Souvlaki.
Souvlaki (plural is Souvlakia) is a diminutive of the Greek souvla (spit), and there is evidence that cooking with skewers originated in Greece.  One excavation of the archaeological site Akrotiri, on the Greek island of Santorini,  revealed stone sets of barbecues for skewers (Greek: krateutai) used before the 17th century BCE.  Alright kiddies, quiz time, Akrotiri was a Minoan Bronze Age settlement on the volcanic Greek island of Santorini (Thera).  What mythological creature lived in a maze, underneath the king’s palace?  (Insert Jeopardy theme music)  Time is up!  The Minotaur.

Back to Souvlaki, small pieces of meat or poultry, sometimes vegetables are included, which are grilled on a skewer.  The grilled food can be eaten right off the skewer or pulled off onto a warm pita bread to make a sandwich.  If you are looking more for a dinner entree, place the souvlaki over rice or orzo (pasta shaped like rice).  The warm pita bread, broken into pieces, can act as a utensil.

This is a simple and easy meal that can be prepared for sports oriented children (once it begins again).  Get them home after their event and while they are cleaning up, you can be getting together this healthy meal for them.  Chicken, firm cuts of seafood, and pork can be used instead of beef.  Vegetarians can indulge by substituting tofu, or chunks of beefy tasting, Portobella (also spelled Portabella or Portobello) mushrooms, for the protein, plus adding a larger variety of vegetables.

The marinade for the Souvlakia is simply lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and garlic. The lemon juice helps to break down the connective tissue in the proteins; tenderness is assured after grilling or oven roasting.  For my recipe, I added capers for a little twang on the tongue.

Beef and Vegetable Souvlaki


1 lb. beef cubes, trimmed of fat
1 lb. mini sweet peppers, cut in half and seeded
1 large onion, chopped
½ lb. small button mushrooms
¼ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
½ tsp. each of fine sea salt and ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. minced parsley
1 tsp. capers


In a large plastic container, combine all ingredients thoroughly; seal and refrigerate overnight.

If grilling, alternate beef cubes and vegetables on skewers. Soak wooden skewers in water for 30 minutes first to avoid burning.  Place on medium-high preheated grill; cook for 6 minutes before turning skewers; cook another 6 minutes before serving.

If roasting, preheat oven to 450F. Place beef, vegetables and remaining marinade into a large roasting pan, or onto a large jelly roll pan, in a single layer.  Cook for 3 minutes, turn beef; repeat; on 3rd turn of beef, also turn vegetables (this will allow for beef and vegetables to caramelize); turn beef a 4th time, cook for 3 minutes.

Makes 4 – 6 servings.

Mary Cokenour

By the way, we had this on May 12, 2020, and here are a few photos of that delicious meal.

Kabobs ready for the grill, Greek marinade for basting.
After Grilling

Kabobs, Squash cooked with salt, cracked black pepper and butter, Naan Bread, Feta Cheese

Roy's dinner plate is full.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Ways to Murder a Chicken.

Why did the chicken cross the road?  While many will answer with, “To get to the other side.” it might be to save its own life.  Think about it, someone is usually trying to put a rotisserie spit up that poor chicken’s butt.  Or there is the crazy guy attempting to choke it behind the barn.  The poor chicken knows to stay away from the same crazy guy’s wife though; she wants to smother it!  That poor chicken, what could it possibly have done to have so many trying to murder it?

Blue Collar Comedy comedian, Bill Engvall, gives us an answer, “Many moons ago, millions of chickens roamed this land.  Then along comes Colonel, wiped them out.”  (Bill Engvall – Free Range Chicken -  Chickens are not native to North America.  They did roam freely across Southeast Asia before becoming domesticated about 5400 years ago.  Eventually, as European countries developed, traders brought chickens back; along with silk, precious gems and other culinary oddities.  Chicken meat and eggs were considered a delicacy for the rich and the royal.  By the 16th – 17th centuries, chickens, which are prolific breeders, became common place; food for the rich and poor alike.  Dutch and Portuguese slave traders brought them across the Atlantic, stored in cages, as were their human cargo.   The only freedom the domesticated chicken now knew, was the barnyard; and the slaves were their caretakers.

Also, along with the chickens, came recipes and cooking techniques from various countries and cultures.  In French, the word "étouffée" means "smothered", a popular cooking technique in Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole cuisines.  A protein (meat, poultry or seafood), plus a minimal amount of liquid, is slow cooked over low heat, in a covered pan; similar to braising.  The protein, and the ensuing “gravy”, were ladled over rice, with vegetables as a side dish.  Eventually, it became easier to put all the ingredients into a stock pot, cooking together until the protein simply became “smothered” in rice, vegetables and gravy.

The Campbell’s Soup Company took advantage of this type of cooking and created casserole dishes, with recipes on the backs of soup cans.  Popular is the use of cream of mushroom soup, poured over chicken and rice, baked in the oven, and 20 minutes later…dinner!  I have made this recipe myself, but over the years, experimentation has given me many delicious versions.

My newest version is called “Creamy Smothered Chicken”, with the chicken baked alone and smothered in a rich, creamy sauce; rice is served as a side dish.  Very similar to the original technique developed by Louisiana residents.  While I put diced and chopped vegetables into my sauce, another vegetable, steamed broccoli for example, can be another side dish.  The chicken will bake longer than the Campbell’s recipe, as I do not precook the chicken in a skillet.

When I mention, for the chicken, “cut in half laterally”, place the chicken breast on the cutting board and place your palm on top.  Carefully run a sharp knife, sideways, along the length of the breast, creating two “cutlets” of equal length and thickness.

With the sauce, do not work it down between the chicken breasts.  The underside of the chicken, exposed to the nonstick spray, will develop a crispy crust.

Creamy Smothered Chicken


4 chicken breasts, cut in half laterally
2 large eggs
2 cups 2% milk
2 cups Italian flavored bread crumbs
1 (10.5 oz.) cream of mushroom soup
1 cup 2% milk
1 (4 oz.) can sliced mushrooms
1 cup diced bell peppers (green, red and yellow in equal proportions)
½ cup diced red onion
1 cup shredded mild cheddar cheese


In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and 2 cups milk; immerse chicken breasts and let soak for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350F; spray a 4-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Coat sides and edges of the chicken with the bread crumbs, place inside baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix thoroughly mushroom soup, 1 cup milk, mushrooms, bell peppers, onion and cheddar cheese.  Pour over chicken and spread out evenly.

Cover with aluminum foil, bake for 30 minutes; remove foil and bake additional 30 minutes.

Let rest for 10 minutes before serving.  Suggested accompanying side dishes: steamed broccoli, rice pilaf, buttered egg noodles or garlic toast.

Makes 8 servings.

Mary Cokenour