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GOOD COOKING

Midwest Makeovers

July 15, 1993|ABBY MANDEL

Midwestern cooking has come into its own in the past few years, thanks to current preferences for comforting, straightforward, gutsy food. At the same time, Midwestern cooking has evolved in recent years, influenced as much by the flavors of modern Italian cuisine and the creative cooking of American restaurant chefs in other regions as the renewed appreciation for the products and traditions of the Midwest.

This menu, for example, finishes with gelato-filled brioche sandwiches, certainly not a typical Midwestern dessert. But the total effect is one of down-home desserts and Midwestern ice cream socials.

The kebabs, which can be made with duck or chicken, were conceived by chef Mark Baker of the Four Seasons in Chicago. His inspiration: high-quality Culver duck and Amish chicken, both Midwestern-grown. Baker cleverly offsets the duck and chicken with a shallot-sweet vinegar glaze and charred new potato-and-fennel salad.

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The kebabs are prepared in two steps designed to preserve the delicious meat flavors. An herbed oil is used to flavor the meat overnight, then is drained off before the meat is cooked. To cook the kebabs, a grilling marinade is used; this marinade contains no oil, which helps keep the fire from flaring. Chef Mark Baker prefers to cook the chicken or duck with the skin on; you can leave it off, if you choose. Turkey would also work well. Leave a slight space between the meat and onion to allow the meat to cook through more quickly and evenly.

BARBECUED CHICKEN OR DUCK KEBABS WITH SHALLOTS AND SWEET VINEGAR GLAZE 2 1/2 pounds boneless chicken or duck breasts, skin on, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes 2 large red onions, halved, separated into leaves, cut into 1 1/2-inch squares Herbed Oil Marinade Shallot and Sweet Vinegar Grilling Marinade

Soak 12 (8-inch) wooden skewers in water. Alternate chicken with onion squares on water-soaked skewers. Place filled skewers in large, heavy-duty plastic food bag. Set aside.

Pour Herbed Oil Marinade over skewers in food bag. Secure bag close to skewers. Place plastic food bag inside another plastic food bag to avoid leakage. Marinate overnight in refrigerator, turning bag occasionally.

To grill, remove kebabs from herb marinade. Drain well. Pat dry with paper towels. Generously brush all sides with grilling marinade. Let stand until ready to grill.

Heat grill to medium. Grill kebabs until cooked as desired, about 10 to 15 minutes, turning as needed and brushing often with Shallot and Sweet Vinegar Grilling Marinade. Do not overcook. Remove from grill. Place on serving platter. Brush with grilling marinade. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot or warm. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about: 413 calories; 244 mg sodium; 72 mg cholesterol; 29 grams fat; 22 grams carbohydrates; 20 grams protein; 0.66 gram fiber.

Herbed Oil Marinade Grated zest 1 lemon 2 cups light-tasting olive oil 1/2 cup minced fresh rosemary, thyme and savory 4 large cloves garlic, minced 1 teaspoon black pepper

Combine lemon zest, olive oil, mixed herbs, garlic and pepper in 1-quart bowl.

Shallot and Sweet Vinegar Grilling Marinade 3/4 cup minced shallots 1 teaspoon minced garlic 2 cups balsamic vinegar 1 cup chicken broth 3 tablespoons honey Salt, pepper

Combine shallots, garlic, vinegar, broth, honey and salt and pepper to taste in 1-quart non-aluminum saucepan. Bring to boil. Simmer, uncovered, until reduced to 2 cups, about 20 minutes. Can be made 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Let come to room temperature before using.

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\o7 This salad would be a great accompaniment to any grilled meat or poultry. Try to make it several hours or a day ahead so the flavors have a chance to meld.

\f7 CHARRED NEW POTATO AND FENNEL SALAD 2 pounds small red potatoes 2 medium fennel bulbs, trimmed, quartered lengthwise 1/2 cup light-tasting olive oil Salt Freshly ground pepper 6 to 7 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1/3 cup chopped Nicoise olives 1/3 cup chopped green onions

Place potatoes and fennel in bowl and toss with 1/4 cup olive oil. Save any extra oil. Spread mixed potatoes and fennel in single layer on broiler pan. Lightly season to taste with salt and pepper. Broil until vegetables blister and slightly blacken, turning once, about 5 minutes per side. Bake at 400 degrees until just tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Do not overcook potatoes.

When cool enough to handle, cut potatoes and fennel into 1/2-inch dice. Toss with remaining oil, 6 tablespoons vinegar, olives and green onions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add remaining tablespoon vinegar if needed. Can be made several hours ahead and kept at room temperature or day ahead and refrigerated, covered airtight. Let come to room temperature before serving. Adjust seasonings to taste. Makes 6 servings.

Each serving contains about: 315 calories; 141 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 18 grams fat; 34 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.68 gram fiber.

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