Food & DrinkFebruary 21, 2013 at 5:22 am

Cook Your Way to Vacationland

Bummed that you’re stuck in “exotic” New Jersey while your friends are getting tan on some tropical paradise? An exciting (culinary) getaway is just what you need! Take advantage of the free time and appliances you don’t have at school to cook up this Mediterranean dinner and indulgent dessert from the comfort of your own home-home.

1. On The Grill: Chicken Kebabs with Mint Marinade

Place 6 tablespoons of olive oil, 6 crushed garlic cloves, 3 teaspoons of fresh mint, 3 teaspoons of fresh oregano, 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons of black pepper, and 4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice into a food processor and pulsate until the mixture is well blended but still chunky.

After dicing 1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breast into 1 ½ inch cubes, put it into a large bowl. Pour the herb marinade over the chicken and mix it around with your hands or a large spoon until it is fully coated. Marinate in the refrigerator overnight.

Around dinnertime the next day, set your grill to medium high–heat. Coat about 30 cherry tomatoes, 30 mini portabella mushroom caps, four red or green bell peppers and two large red onions both diced into 1 1/2 inch squares with a liberal dose of olive oil, crushed garlic, kosher salt and pepper in a bowl and wait for 30 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the fridge and take out 8 metal skewers and another pack of fresh mint. Arrange the skewers by alternating pieces of chicken with the vegetables and leaves of whole mint as dividers. Sprinkle the skewers with additional kosher salt and black pepper. Then put them on the grill while turning and basting with a mixture of 2 tablespoons of oil and lemon juice for about ten minutes, or until the chicken is fully cooked.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine (July 2001)

2. Laborious Prep Time: Orzo Salad with Feta, Spinach and Mushrooms

Boil 2 1/4 cups of orzo (15 ounces) until it is al dente, soft but not soggy and drain it into a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar with 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice and 1/3 cup of olive oil. Pour this over the orzo and mix thoroughly to loosen it up.

In a medium sized skillet, toast 2 tablespoons of pine nuts until they are golden brown. Transfer them to a plate, and chop 8 ounces of shitake mushrooms, stemmed and capped, into 1-inch pieces. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the skillet and sauté the shitakes, seasoned with salt and pepper, until they are brown.

Take out a cutting board and cut 2 cups of fresh spinach (1 1/2 ounces) into thin strips, and dice 2 celery ribs into 1/4 or 1/2-inch cubes. Along with 1 1/2 cups (8 ounces) of crumbled feta cheese, place these ingredients into the orzo bowl and toss well, adding kosher salt and black pepper to taste.

Recipe adapted from Food & Wine Magazine (October 2005)

3. Bonus Baking from Scratch: Decadent Chocolate Cake 

Turn on your convection oven and set it to 350 degrees. Place two 8–inch cake pans on your countertop and cut circles of parchment paper to fit the bottoms of the pans. After laying the circles inside, spray the pans with some Pam or wipe them with melted butter and coat them with flour, knocking the excess into your sink.

Use an espresso machine or filters it to make half a cup of strong coffee. Dilute it with half a cup of boiling water, and pour the mixture over a decently sized bowl filled with 3 ounces of unsweetened chocolate and one stick of unsalted butter. After the butter and chocolate have melted, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 2 cups of granulated white sugar.

Separate two eggs and mix the yolks into the chocolate and butter mixture one by one, making sure that they are blended in well. In a different bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of sour cream and 1 teaspoon of baking soda, and then add the mixture to the chocolate.

Sift 2 cups minus two tablespoons of flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder into another bowl and then add to the main batter. Use an electric mixer to beat the almost complete batter on medium speed until it is fully blended.

In a separate bowl, use the electric mixer to beat the two egg whites until they become stiff. Beat 1/4 of the egg whites into the batter and gently fold in the remaining 3/4.

Pour the batter into the two cake pans. Put them on the middle rack of your oven and bake for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean from the center. Cool completely before frosting.

For the frosting, place 3 tablespoons of unsalted butter, 3/4 cup of bittersweet chocolate chips, 6 tablespoons of heavy cream, 1 3/4 cup of confectioners sugar, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract into a saucepan and heat on low, whisking until the consistency is smooth.

After making sure that the cake is loose enough from the pans (run a knife around the edges), turn one over to release onto a large plate. Spread frosting over its top and sides, and then place the second layer on top of the first, spreading additional frosting to coat the entire cake.

Recipe adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

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