Food on a stick. It's not hard to understand what makes the concept fun -- especially for those of us who have spent time at the Minnesota State Fair, where anything from hot dish to chocolate-covered Key lime pie to coffee (frozen, of course) comes on a skewer. As you wander past Carousel Park with a Pronto Pup in one hand and a skewer of deep-fried chocolate cookie dough in the other, it may be difficult to imagine that food on a stick -- a k a kebabs -- can be a tasty and healthful meal for you and your family.
The beauty of making kebabs for dinner is that the whole family can get involved, even the little ones. Kids of all ages love to pick out the ingredients, compose their own kebabs and skewer the ingredients.
But not all kebabs are created equal. How many times have you ended up with tough, chewy meat, raw onions and mushy peppers? Too often for many cooks. Preparing a perfectly cooked kebab is actually quite easy, though, provided you "stick" to a few simple rules.
• Meat and veggies don't mix. I understand the urge to alternate meat and vegetables on each skewer, but doing that makes it much more difficult to make sure each ingredient is cooked correctly. Vegetables can sometimes take longer to cook than meat, especially if you're cooking red meat and looking for a medium-rare result. For that reason, I like to keep the meat with the meat and the vegetables with the vegetables.
• Making the right cut. When you have multiple pieces of meat, chicken or vegetables on one stick, it's important to make sure the ingredients that will be cooked together on that stick are cut in uniform pieces. This will help everything cook at the same time. If you have trouble with food spinning on the skewer, you can always cut the ingredients large enough to allow you to thread them on two side-by-side skewers.
• Don't forget to soak wooden skewers. You don't want to hand someone a burned wooden stick. It is easily avoided by soaking wooden skewers for at least 30 minutes before threading on the ingredients.
Meredith Deeds of Edina is the author of "Everyday to Entertaining" and "The Big Book of Appetizers." Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @meredithdeeds.