On a Stick! contains 80 "party-perfect" recipes. Matt shows us that the world's most delicious foods taste even better on a stick. Also, when it comes to party food, or picnic party food in our case, it's more than just presentation. With a cocktail or glass of wine in one hand, party guests want to be able to grab a nibble with the other hand and forgo the plate and silverware juggling act.
Matt turns the ordinary into extraordinary, while adding an element of fun. He replaces that boring crudité platter of old and rubbery vegetables with Crudité Skewers - baby summer squash, portobello mushrooms, bell peppers, radishes, and endive pieces, decoratively threaded on bamboo skewers, and accompanied with a bowl of Latin Green Goddess Dressing for dipping.
As I flipped through the cookbook for the first time, the food blogger/photographer in me first concentrated on the presentation and photography of each dish. The second time, I had a pad of yellow stickies in hand and tabbed all my favorites. For my first Concert in the Park selection, I immediately zeroed in on Korean-Style BBQ Pork Belly Skewers. They were a bit more challenging than Lamb Skewers with Mint Chutney or Red Curry Shrimp and Pineapple Skewers, and required a trip to a local Korean market, but that increased the "fun" factor for me.
The marinade is fantastic, with a sweet and spicy mix of Korean chili paste, sugar, soy sauce, Korean chili powder, sesame oil, scallions, and garlic. Slathered on pork belly and marinated over night, you know it's going to be awesome. The market had perfectly sliced pork belly, which is much easier than buying a slab and trying to skin and slice it on your own. Matt confesses he ate two whole pounds in a single sitting, and I probably could have done the same. We cooked our skewers a bit longer than called for, a wee bit too long, but there will be another Korean BBQ session very soon in order to adjust our grilling technique and perfect this delicacy.
Korean-Style BBQ Pork Belly Skewers
Slightly adapted and original recipe doubled
16 bamboo skewers, soaked in water about 30 minutes
2/3 cup Korean chili paste (gochujang)
5 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
4 tablespoons Korean chili powder (gachugara)
4 tablespoons sesame oil
4 scallions, thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds pork belly, cut in half widthwise and sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 cups cooked white rice
16 leaves red-leaf lettuce
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
For the marinade, place all marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk until well combined. Add pork belly slices and toss gently to coat. Refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours.
Preheat the grill to high and brush with oil. Thread pork belly onto skewers. Shake off excess marinade and grill 2-3 minutes on each side (Note: We didn't feel the pork was cooked enough at this point and moved the skewers over to the side, turned the heat down to medium, closed the grill, and continued cooking over indirect heat for another 15 minutes. Watch carefully, as the fat and marinade causes flare-ups).
To serve, place 2 tablespoons of rice on each lettuce leaf. Top with 1 pork belly skewer and finish with a sprinkle of scallions and sesame seeds.
My second dish was Matt's adaptation of Panzanella, a Florentine salad of bread and tomatoes popular in the summer. It includes chunks of soaked stale bread and tomatoes, and sometimes onions and basil, dressed with olive oil and vinegar. Matt's version uses homemade olive oil and garlic and croutons, cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil, drizzled with sherry vinaigrette. The photograph in the book also shows a piece of cucumber on the end of the stick, which I chose to include. In the salad category, Matt also provides recipes for Antipasti Skewers and Caprese Sticks.
Mom focused on the dessert chapter, and took advantage of the abundance of local, seasonal strawberries. She modified the Strawberry Shortcake with Homemade Whipped Cream slightly, by preparing Barefoot Contessa's Orange Pound Cake, from Barefoot Contessa Family Style: Easy Ideas and Recipes That Make Everyone Feel Like Family. The batter has the zest of 6 oranges, as well as a little orange juice and buttermilk. I offered to whip the cream for her, and added a splash of Grand Mariner.
Of course, the kids were attracted to the desserts and not too many of the adults were able to secure a stick to dip in the boozy whipped cream.
Kellee, one of our newest Concert in the Park chefs, rode up on her bike, hopped off, and had a platter of fruit skewers on the table in no time. Matt's book includes Grilled Fruit Skewers with Honey-Mint Syrup and Fruit Salad Skewers with Sweet and Fluffy Dipping Sauce.
Kai shared colorful vegetable skewers - another version that was leagues above that ubiquitous Costco crudité platter.
Jack and Sandra, who are becoming quite famous for their heaping sandwich platters, planted a toothpick in each of their Mini Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches.
Another dessert in On a Stick! is Chocolate-Covered Cheesecake. Brent and Lenore created their own version, Chocolate-Covered Key Lime Cheesecake on a stick.
Olivia has been getting in on the action this summer, and is always proud to display her creation of the week. Here she is with her Chocolate Covered Marshmallows on a stick. Matt includes many kid-friendly sweet foods on a stick, including Homemade Marshmallows and S'mores.
Brent wasn't quite as enthusiastic about posing with his Ice Cream-filled Profiteroles on a stick.
The "stick requirement" was waived for Chris and Julie's Alaskan salmon, right off the boat from their recent fishing trip.
High Street Band, a new addition to the Coronado Concert in the Park lineup, provided a fun and lively selection of music for the evening.
Thank you, again, to Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites, and Eric at Quirk Books, for my complimentary copy of On a Stick! I'm sure I'll be reaching for it quite often for parties, picnics, and our summer Friday night cocktails and appetizers on the patio!