Decorating trees with paper lanterns, swinging in a hammock and sipping iced tea: My back yard plays host to all these activities with the advent of summer. But my favorite warm-weather pastime is outdoor grilling -- specifically, the opportunity to gather a bunch of friends together for a kebab party.
Kebabs are an easy cooking solution for the culinary challenged -- they do, after all, date back to the times of the most rudimentary cooking methods, when nomadic tribes first learned to grill and roast meat over an open fire. (The phrase "shish kebab" is a derivative of the Turkish word "sis," meaning "spit," and "kebap," meaning "roast meat.") Today, people from just about every region have some form of them: Southeast Asian cultures offer satay, France has brochettes, in Greece they've got arni souvlakia, and if you visit Japan you'll probably eat yakitori.
But a great kebab isn't in the name -- it's in the ingredients. When shopping for your fete, plan for two to three sticks per person, and stock up on a wide variety of meats, veggies and fruit. For my party I chose sauces with an Asian flair and paired beef with mangoes, shrimp with lemons, and spicy sausage with potatoes and peppers.
When preparing the food, be sure the ingredients are cut into even-sized pieces so that they'll cook uniformly. Also identify longer-cooking veggies (potatoes, carrots, zucchini) -- those, you'll want to help along with a quick microwave zap or parboil before you thread them onto skewers. Keep kebabs about an inch apart on the grill so that they'll roast evenly. And remember to soak wooden skewers in water first to keep them from catching fire -- exciting as that might be, you don't want to singe your eyebrows while turning the sticks!
As for accompaniments: All you need is something light and simple (I prepared rice with pickled ginger to go with my Asian theme). For drinks, you can't go wrong with a yummy Cakebread Chardonnay (www.cakebread.com). And to end the evening, try a kebab dessert: Just toss some chunks of pear or apple in olive oil, place them on skewers, grill and serve with vanilla ice cream. Your guests will love them -- and head home eager for the next party!
Got an excuse to bring people together? E-mail ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.