I think all Cobb County moms will agree when I say, “May is INSANE!” The frenzy of that last month of school makes little beads of sweat form on my lip just thinking about it, even more than a month later. Between AP exams, school activities wrapping up and junior year planning, I was at the school several days a week and participating in events on the weekends. It was like the regular school year, but on steroids. And it’s the reason I got myself into a cooking pickle.
Have you ever done this? I invited a few moms to my home for dinner to celebrate the end of school. I was thrilled I found a date that worked for four of us, and I set out making grand plans for the yummy meal I was going to prepare. Then the volunteer commitments started firming up, and two landed on the same day as the dinner. Triple booked! What’s a girl to do?
Enter the Council of Elders! Back in 2012, I posted about six celebrity chefs whose recipes have become staples in my cooking repertoire (See: Council of Elders – Part 1: Ina Garten’s Roast Chicken). I knew I needed an uncomplicated recipe that didn’t require much technique if I was going to pull this dinner off. Al Roker to the rescue! His cookbook, Al Roker’s Big Bad Book of Barbecue, is full of delicious recipes that are not super hard to make yet have tons of flavor. I chose “Kebobs Done Right,” a dish I’ve made before that is a definite crowd pleaser.
With the recipe secured, I was able to build a plan for the day. Here is how 24 crowded hours shook out that busy Saturday in May. (Note, the day was so busy, I had little time for photos – just a few from my phone!)
Appetizer: Terra Chips. This is a colorful, elegant item to have in a bowl, ready for a nosh when your guests arrive.
Dinner: Grilled chicken and vegetable kebobs over quinoa. Super easy yet flavorful main dish that is healthy and doesn’t cost an arm and a leg.
Dessert: Angel food cake (Store bought – have you ever tried to make one? Forget it!) with fresh berries and homemade whipped cream.
- 1-2 bags of Terra chips, depending on how many guests you have. The fun thing is, they come in a lot of different flavors, so feel free to mix it up.
- 2 lbs chicken breast
- 2 lbs assorted vegetables. I get a variety of colors: green zucchini, yellow squash, red peppers, purple onions. Stay away from tomatoes – they don’t grill so hot.
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt & pepper (If you don’t already have.)
- White wine (This is for the marinade. Get more if you plan to drink some!)
- 4 lemons (If they’re on the larger side; 5 if they are smaller.)
- 1 garlic bulb (You’ll need 6 cloves)
- Quinoa (I find one regular box is enough)
- Veggie stock (To cook the quinoa in)
- Angel food cake (From your local supermarket bakery – not frozen!)
- 2-4 cups mixed berries (I usually get strawberries, raspberries and blueberries)
- Granulated sugar (Only if you don’t have it; you’ll only need a teaspoon or two.)
- ½ pint heavy whipping cream
- Confectioner’s sugar (Only if you don’t have it; you’ll only need a couple of tablespoons.)
- Flavored seltzers (I don’t drink…)
- Limes for drink garnish
- Bamboo skewers (Or any other skewers. You can find them in the barbecue/grilling section of your grocery store.)
Friday Night After Work
I stopped by Publix and picked up the required groceries. This way, I wouldn’t have to rush around Saturday morning. As luck would have it, my grays were growing in at lighting speed, so I also picked up a box of hair dye as well.
- First – and do NOT skip this step – make some coffee.
- Apply dye to hair. You are welcome to skip this step if you are a young mother who doesn’t have to worry about this sort of thing, or if you remembered to make an appointment with your stylist. Clearly, I am neither of these. Neither is Al Roker, now that I think about it…
- Prepare the marinade for the chicken. Here’s Al Roker’s recipe (I leave out the tarragon; not enough people like it to cook for a crowd.):
- ¾ white wine
- 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 6 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2-3 lemons)
- 6 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- Cut the chicken into 2-inch chunks. Place it in a shallow, non-reactive pan and pour the marinade over it. Cover the pan and refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Here’s where the busy day works in your favor – you can’t touch the dish for at least a working day. Marinade and forget it!
- Rinse out the hair dye if you’re in a similar gray-hair predicament.
- Cut vegetables into half inch pieces and place in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. These don’t need to be marinated; it’s just nice to get this done ahead of time.
- Eyeball your kitchen and run a Clorox wipe over any olive oil spills and sweep up any vegetable bits the dog may have missed.
- Proceed to Volunteer Commitment #1 – Maintenance Day with your HOA. As this was an outdoor activity in May in Georgia, it was a no-make up event. I had the extremely glamorous job of scrubbing the bathrooms by the pool, and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve been on your hands and knees, face-to-face with the urinal in the boys bathroom, sweeping cobwebs out of the corner. Somehow, I can’t picture Al Roker doing this… Once the bathrooms were spic and span, I headed to Volunteer Commitment #2…
- Volunteer Commitment #2 – Working the IB medal ceremony reception. Senior IB students have their own sort of pre-graduation where they receive medals for completing the IB program followed by a reception. This was a dressy event, meaning a shower was required. I ran home from the pool, washed off the cobwebs and put on a dress. Make up would have to be applied in the car. (The idea of this always makes me cringe. The interior of my CRV stopped at a light is perhaps the worst place to fill in my eyebrows. I end up looking like a drag queen.)
(FYI, I found out I was “voted’ to host this event next year. Interestingly, I didn’t vote… All I could think of was, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Shakespeare really understood the life of the volunteer mamma.)
- The event was lovely. After clearing all the food and the platters and the spilled cups of lemonade, I headed back to the house. Guest were to arrive at 7;00pm. It was around 5:00.
Another quick shower to wash off the remnants of ranch dressing and cake icing. I expertly avoided getting my hair or face wet. Then a much-needed make up touch up (More like a tone down really. Those eyebrows!). Then back in the kitchen.
If you got bamboo skewers, they need to be soaked in water for at least 15 minutes so they don’t burn on the grill. Make sure you do that.
In a bowl, toss the vegetables with 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 1 lemon) and kosher salt & pepper to taste.
Remove the chicken from the pan and discard the marinade.
Once the skewers are done soaking, thread the chicken onto them, leaving a bit of space between the pieces. This ensures the meat cooks all the way through.
Thread the veggies onto skewers as well. Keep veggies that are around the same size together, and leave a bit of space between the pieces.
Set these on the counter until go time. It’s good to have the meat and veggies at room temperature before you throw them on the grill.
Slice the berries and place in a bowl. Toss with 1-2 tsp of granulated sugar. Cover and refrigerate so the juices can blend together. Toss a few times before serving if you can.
Slice lemons and limes for garnish for your waters.
Put the Terra chips in a bowl and set in the area you will have drinks/appetizers. I like to make this space separate from where we’ll eat dinner. Since it was pretty nice out, I set it on the patio table.
Stage your serving pieces. You’ll need a large serving dish for the chicken, veggies and quinoa; a bowl for the pieces of angel food cake; a bowl for the berries and a bowl for the whipped cream. Fetch a number of serving spoons and forks as well. Have everything out and ready to go so you’re not scrambling when it comes time to serve.
I like to put the glasses out with the lemons and limes on one side of the kitchen so guests don’t feel like they’re in the way of the cooking.
Put a pot on the stove for the quinoa. Go ahead and add the veggie stock so all you have to do is turn on the stove and add the quinoa when it’s time to prepare it.
If you have a stand mixer, attach the whisk. This is for making the whipped cream. If you don’t have a stand mixer, go ahead and put the beaters on your hand mixer and set aside. If you don’t have either, buy some Ready Whip. It’s too hard to make whip cream by hand!
Set the table. I like to use cloth napkins. You can get them super cheap at Kohl’s (really, if you pay full price for anything at Kohl’s, you’re insane). We use them every day.
Put on some music. (This is something I need to work on. I forget not everybody likes Jay-Z.)
Eyeball your kitchen for any items out of place that will impede your mojo once cooking is underway. The idea is to have a pleasant, stress-free experience for you and your guests. A dog toy in the middle of the kitchen floor can throw a wrench in even the best-laid plans.
Guests arrive! And let me say, I love IB moms! Being a part of this program is the first time I’ve been surrounded by parents who think the same way I do. We have similar goals for our kids’ educations, our outlook on the world is similar and dag gone it, they are some seriously positive women. Al Roker would approve!
Especially lucky for me, Kan Davidson brought her world famous spring rolls!!! An actual homemade appetizer! And Kan was at the medal ceremony, so I know she was running around that day, too. It was very kind of her to contribute.
Turn the grill on high. I have a gas grill, so it’s just flipping a switch. If you are a purist and use actual charcoal, and God bless you for that, make sure you have enough coal for about 20 minutes of grilling on high. A gas grill should be sufficiently preheated in about 10 minutes, maybe longer, depending on your grill.
Right before you put the kabobs on, start the quinoa. Check the box for instructions. I usually make the whole box. Turn the burner on high. Add the whole box of quinoa to the pot with the veggie stock. Give it a few minutes to boil. Once you achieve a rolling boil, continue boiling for about a minute. Then turn the heat down to low or simmer, put a lid on the pot, and get going on the chicken. Quinoa usually needs about 15 minutes to absorb all the liquid – the perfect amount of time to grill the chicken and veggies! If the quinoa is done a little earlier, you can always remove it from the burner; it should be fine. Just keep the lid on the pot.
Grill the chicken and vegetables for 12-15 minutes, turning the kebobs as they cook. Often, the veggies are done before the chicken, depending on how thick you cut them. Watch for signs of doneness (the skin starts to pucker a bit; the veggie is a little softer) and remove as necessary. When everything’s done, put on a plate and bring inside.
Stat corralling your guests to the table. As they make their way, grab your serving platter and spoon on the quinoa. Fluff it up a bit to make it look pretty. Slide the chicken and veggies off of the skewers and on top of the quinoa. Arrange the pieces so they’re not clumped together. It really makes a pretty presentation.
Place the platter in the center of the table as your guests ooh and ahh. Really, if they knew how easy it was, they may not be as impressed. Enjoy your meal with your friends. When they’re through, I guarantee they will ask if they can help clear the table (if they were raised right). Let them! The camaraderie in the kitchen is half the fun.
As they’re enjoying themselves, grab the angel food cake. Slice it into single servings and put the pieces in a bowl. Grab your berries from the fridge. It they’re not already in their serving bowl, make the swap. Finally, grab the heavy whipping cream and the confectioners sugar. Pour all of the whipping cream in the bowl. Using your stand mixer or hand mixer, whip the cream on high until stiff but not separating. Mix in 2 tablespoons of confectioners sugar, or more to taste. Spoon the whipped cream into a serving bowl. Grab some dessert plates and forks and set them on the dining room table.
If they’re not already there, bring your guests back to the dining room table. Place the bowls of cake, berries and whipped cream in the middle. Have your guests serve themselves. Every time I’ve offered dessert like this, my guests enjoy the change of serving style. It allows them to have as much or as little as they want of each component.
Serve coffee if anyone is totally dragging.
And that’s it! So, so easy, and totally delicious! You really can have an insanely busy day and still serve a memorable meal. Al Roker, you are a saint!
If you give this recipe a try this summer, take a picture and I will post it!