Saturday, December 27, 2008

Balsamic Chicken Skewers for New Years

Although Christmas is over, New Years is looming. If you're like me, you're on the lookout for party food recipes. This recipe for Balsamic Chicken Skewers comes as a “guest blog” from Mary Crafts of Culinary Crafts Catering, by way of Katie Nielsen. Culinary Crafts is an award winning catering service based in Salt Lake City. If you don't want to cook for that big party yourself, you may want to check them out.

Mary Crafts also hosts a really cool cooking show called Culinary Creations, broadcast out of Provo, Utah on KBYU-TV. She's got some pretty slick recipes and entertaining ideas. No wonder, coming from a top-rated caterer.

Thanks to Katie for the recipe, and to Mary for giving us permission to reprint it.

Balsamic Chicken Skewers

1 lb boneless chicken thighs cut into 1 inch pieces
1 cup soy sauce

Marinate chicken pieces in soy sauce for 4 hours (up to 24 hours).
Thread chicken pieces on skewers. Roast in 400ยบ oven for 15 minutes.
Remove from oven and brush chicken with Balsamic Chutney Glaze. Return them to the oven and roast for 5 more minutes to finish.

Makes about 16 skewers

Balsamic Chutney Glaze:

1 cup mango chutney
2 sliced scallions
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Combine the ingredients in a bowl and use as a glaze.

[I've not tried it, but I'd bet that if you cooked these in a skillet for a few minutes, it would create an amazing sauce to top other chicken or pork dishes. - MF]

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Five Spice Cookies

Cookies and Christmas just go together. Every year I make a batch of Five Spice cookies, a spice cookie I came up with, inspired by Four-Spice Crackles. They add an Oriental flair to any Christmas cookie line up, and are a favorite around our house.


2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons Chinese Five-Spice powder (yes, that much)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (1 stick)
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/4 cup molasses
1 egg

In a large bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and five-spice powder and set aside.

In another large bowl, beat the brown sugar, butter, shortening and molasses with a hand mixer until blended and fluffy. Add the egg and beat until thoroughly mixed and smooth.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter mixture and beat until well blended. Add the rest of the flour and beat until just blended. Cover the dough and refrigerate for 1 1/ 2 hours or until firm enough to shape into small balls.

Place the oven rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly grease your hands and roll the dough into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in course (turbinado) sugar. Place about 2 1/2 inches apart on baking sheets that have been sprayed with cooking spray, or lined with parchment paper.

Bake on the upper rack 9 to 12 minutes until cookies are cracked and slightly soft in the center. Bake in batches so you don't over fill the oven. Remove the cookies from the baking sheet and cool on wire racks. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Five-spice cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks, or frozen for up to 1 month.

If you can't find course sugar, you can substitute regular sugar, it just won't look so pretty.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Hanukkah Recipe Round-Up

With Hanukkah approaching, I was hoping to offer some Hanukkah recipes. This is nothing new for me. Anytime a holiday shows up I like to celebrate with food.

Trouble is, I'm not Jewish. A few months ago, when Passover rolled around, I failed miserably trying to make a strange matza lasagna. (This recipe is much better.)

This time, I'm not even going to try and present my own Hanukkah recipes. I may try some other time, but this year, I've learned my lesson. Instead, I offer a collection of Hanukkah recipes that others have come up with, and seemed really good to me.

Okay, maybe a couple of them are mine.

Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Food Service

Mark Hansen, a friend and fellow blogger, challenged me to write a piece on service. I had been invited to do something like this before, by another blogging friend, but I didn't feel like I had the time. In a bout of repentance, I offer the following:

(WARNING: Soap Box Alert!)

When my wife and I were young and newly married (about 1991), we lived in downtown Salt Lake City. Most LDS wards have church service projects like working at Welfare Square, at the cannery, or at one of the LDS Church's farms, growing and processing food for the Church's welfare program. This ward had an interesting assignment, though. It wasn't working for the LDS Church. In fact, I was working for the Catholics.

At the time, there was a “soup kitchen” being run downtown by the Salt Lake City diocese. My wife and I, eager to serve, went there one Saturday morning, working the breakfast service. While my wife worked behind the counter, dishing up food to those who came, I worked the garbage cans, making sure they got emptied and that the dirty trays and dishes were accounted for. I was younger, and in better shape, then. I think they wanted me visible. If anyone came in looking for trouble, they'd think twice with a former Marine hanging around.

Afterwards, the Priest in charge gave a tour of the facility. Not only could people get food here, but twice a week doctors and dentists came in to give of their time. Clothing of all kinds, sizes, and shapes, could be picked up if needed, or disposed of if beyond wearing. There was no test to get in. You didn't have to show any financial records, or lack thereof. You just had to show up.

Don't get me wrong. This padre wasn't a push over. He could tell when people were trouble. He warned us to watch out for certain signs of potential trouble, though I never saw any. His concern seemed underpinned with a sense of worry, that he didn't explain, and I couldn't pin down. He thanked us for our service, and we were happy to serve. Years later, I learned that the “soup kitchen” had been closed down sometime afterwards due to financial concerns.

Although a leader within my own religion, his connection to the Spirit of Christ was unmistakable. He gave, he loved, and he did it with full knowledge of the state and character of the people he served, as much as anyone can know, anyway.

Next to the example of this good Priest, was my experience with the people. Here were people who, for whatever reason, needed a free meal. Some were homeless, some were just down on their luck. Some, undoubtedly, were addicted to various drugs or alcohol. If so, I'm sure it played a role in getting them to where they were. But they were no different from most of the affluent people I've met. Their characters ran the same range. Some were humble, and grateful. Others were ornery and ungrateful, even while eating the food proffered. Others were embarrassed by their need. They weren't evil. They weren't good. They were just people. They were my brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, family, friends.

Later, after my wife and I moved to other cities, and other wards, we met more people in various financial circumstances. Some were humble, and grateful. Others were ornery and ungrateful, even while driving their large SUVs home to roast meats and warm beds. Some were embarrassed by their wealth. Again, they were just people.

Unlike those in the soup kitchen, some of them made me angry. They told me things like, “Homeless people are just lazy. If they'd just go get a job they'd be fine. Giving to charity or the homeless is just throwing your money away. They'll just spend it on beer and cigarettes.”

In some cases they may be right. Some people are lazy. In most, though, I think they are dead wrong. Some have just given in to despair. In all of their railings against the poor and destitute, I think they forgot one thing: how can you tell those who are “deserving” of our help from those who are not? The question itself is ridiculous.

When God blesses us, does he ask if we're “deserving” or not? When Christ cleansed the lepers, did He ask if they were “deserving?” When he made the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the dumb to talk, did He ask if they were “deserving?” No. He healed them. He asked them to forsake their sins, and frankly forgave them when they did not. He sent them on their way. He loved them.

It is at this time of year that we celebrate His coming to the world. There is no test to get His help. You don't have to show any financial records, or lack thereof. You just have to ask in faith.

(New Testament | Matthew 7:7 - 8)

7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Are we not called to do the same?

What stories and lessons of service do you have? Feel free to share them, or leave links to them, in the comments.

Picture by Damion Miller

Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to Cook Lentils

If you're a busy parent trying to find healthy foods that you kids will eat, but don't take forever to cook, lentils are your friend. I only know a few people who don't like lentils and my kids are definitely not on that list.

Unlike other beans, lentils don't need to be soaked prior to cooking, and they cook quickly. Red and orange lentil cook into a soft paste and make a great side dish when spiced with cumin, coriander, salt, and black pepper. Green and brown lentils hold their shape and are great for adding to salads or broth soups.

For all types of lentils, one part lentils to two parts water works great. 1 1/4 cups of lentils to 2 1/2 cups water will serve four people, nicely.


Spread the lentils out on a baking sheet and sort through them, removing small rocks and other debris. Transfer them to a colander and r inse them under cold running water. Put them in a pot with the water, add about 1/ 2 teaspoon of salt, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes. If any scum (shmutz) forms on top, carefully skim it off with a slotted spoon.

Once the water has been absorbed, and the lentils are tender, add spices and additional salt to taste. Stirring in some olive oil (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) at this point will really kick up the flavor an make the texture even more creamy.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Caramel

Growing up, Christmas meant helping my mom make candy. Tons and tons of chocolate dipped fondants and such that we would give away to friends and relatives. And eat, of course. One of my favorites was the caramels.

This is, to my mind, the most perfect caramel candy around. It's soft, and buttery, not hard like the stuff you buy in stores. There's a purity to it, perfect for Christmas.


3 cups whipping cream
1/2 can sweetened condensed milk
2 cups sugar
2 cups light corn syrup
1 tablespoon vanilla

Grease a 9 inch x 13 inch pan with butter, and set aside.

Heat the cream and sweetened condensed milk in a double boiler until it starts to steam. If you don't have a double boiler, place a pan of water on the stove, and put another one on top.

Add 1/ 2 cup of sugar and 1 /2 cup corn syrup and bring to boil. Add the remaining sugar and corn syrup, 1 /2 cup at a time, returning the mixture to a boil between additions. Add the vanilla and slowly boil for about 40 minutes, stirring constantly, to about 240 degrees Fahrenheit (if you have a candy thermometer) or to the “soft ball” stage.

You can test if the candy for readiness this way. Working quickly, drop a few drops of the hot mixture int a cup of cold water. With your fingers form the drops into a ball (don't burn yourself). When the ball of candy is removed from the water with your finger, it should quickly flatten and start to run off. Continue checking the candy every two or three minutes until it reaches the proper consistency.

Pour the mixture into the greased pan and let it cool before putting it in the refrigerator overnight. Using a table knife, remove the caramel from the pan to a cutting board. Grease a sharp and heavy knife, cutting the caramel into 1 inch pieces. Wrap each piece in a small bit of wax paper and put in boxes as gifts.

NOTE: Don't skimp of the cooking time or it won't set up. Don't try rushing the cooking time, either. You don't want it to burn. Don't try doubling the recipe, either. Cooking it in two batches will give better results. If it doesn't set up well, you can return it to the double boiler, add a couple of tablespoons of cream, and recook it.

Another great way to prepare these caramels is to dip them in melted chocolate before, or instead of, wrapping them.