Cooking for me tends to be a solo job. I actually prefer it that way, rather than having the kids help with everything. It’s cathartic, and quicker…and less messy.

My oldest is a girl, and she’s about to turn 8 years old. She has absolutely no interest in cooking, except for the occasion where she might get to lick the bowl after I’ve whipped up a batch of brownies. This surprises me since she enjoys crafty things like jewelry making, and cooking has a project-based feel like that. Give her the option, however, she’d rather play outside, read a book, or make jewelry. And that’s okay with me (see above paragraph).

Enter my son. He turned 4 years old in October, and for the past year he’s been intensely interested in watching everything I do in the kitchen. His little 40-pound self drags a kitchen chair all the way over to the counter, where he then he climbs up and sits, perched, about two feet from where I’m prepping and cooking. He doesn’t ask to help (unless egg cracking’s involved), but does pepper me with questions: “Why are you doing that? What’s that sauce for? Why are you cutting it like that?”

This Valentine’s Day, like many others over the past eight years, will be spent at home. Year’s past, my husband and I used to put the kids to bed and then enjoy a quiet special dinner, just the two of us. That was when kiddo bedtime was before 7:00 PM. These days, our oldest is up until 8:30 PM during the week, which makes dinner for “just the two of us” impossible, considering my bedtime is usually only an hour later.

So, now we’re celebrating Valentine’s Day as a family with a dinner that’s a little more special than our average weekly fare. I enlist my cooking-enthused son to help with simple things like seasoning and prep work. He’s a happy camper with that task, and the timing is perfect for his short attention span. Plus, kids tend to eat a wider variety of foods if they’re the ones helping to pick it out, prepare it and help cook. I’ve found that to be true the majority of the time.

On February 14, we’ll be having a kid-friendly version of surf ‘n turf made with shrimp and chicken, served atop creamy Parmesan orzo pasta. Who wouldn’t like that?

Lemon Pepper Shrimp & Chicken Skewers with Creamy Parmesan Orzo - (cool) progeny

Lemon Pepper Shrimp & Chicken Skewers with Creamy Parmesan Orzo

Prep: 15 minutes | Cook: 15 minutes | Serves: 4

2 chicken breasts (cut into large chunks)
1 bag frozen raw Jumbo shrimp (thawed and peeled)
1 tablespoon finely ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sea salt
2 tablespoons dried parsley
2 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley
1 lemon
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the orzo:
8-ounces orzo pasta
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons salted butter
1/4 cup pasta water (reserve the water just before draining your pasta)
2 tablespoons milk

Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat, and coat it with olive oil. A large sauté pan will work too, if you don’t have a grill pan or grill top.

Bring the chicken broth, water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil in a large sauce pot. Once it’s boiling, add the orzo and let it cook for 9 minutes. Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water, then drain the orzo and return it to the pot. Add the butter, olive oil, Parmesan, reserved pasta water and milk, and then stir until it’s creamy. Cover the pot and let it sit over low heat while the meat finishes cooking – give it a stir every couple of minutes.

Lemon Pepper Shrimp & Chicken Skewers with Creamy Parmesan Orzo - (cool) progeny

Meanwhile, season the chicken and shrimp on separate plates with salt, pepper, dried parsley and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

Place 7-8 pieces of chicken* on each skewer. If you happen to have mushrooms, they make a good stopper so that the chicken doesn’t slip off when you turn it, or when you pick up the skewer. Set the skewers aside until you finish them all.

Lemon Pepper Shrimp & Chicken Skewers with Creamy Parmesan Orzo - (cool) progeny

Place the chicken skewers in the grill pan and cook each side for 3 minutes – about 12 minutes total. While the chicken is cooking, skewer the shrimp, taking care that both the head and the tail get pierced (this helps keep them from spinning).

Once the chicken is done cooking, remove the skewers to a clean plate and let the chicken rest while the shrimp cook.

If the pan seems dry, add a little more olive oil.

Place the shrimp skewers in the grill pan, and cook each side for 3 minutes. Remove the skewers and set them with the chicken.

Lemon Pepper Shrimp & Chicken Skewers with Creamy Parmesan Orzo - (cool) progeny

Give each person one chicken and one shrimp skewer plated overtop a large spoonful of Parmesan orzo. Sprinkle everything with freshly chopped Italian parsley, and then serve with a simple side salad and crusty bread.

Goes great with a nice Sauvignon Blanc for Mom and Dad (Monkey Bay is my favorite!), and sparkling cider for the kids.

Note: Mushrooms are a dense vegetable, so they’ll withstand the cooking time the chicken requires, versus – say – an onion or a pepper. The different cooking times are also the reason I don’t skewer my shrimp, chicken and veggies all on the same skewer. You’d end up with dry, over-cooked shrimp if you cook everything until the chicken is done. Or, you’d end up with raw chicken in the short time on the stove the shrimp requires. Keep them separate.

Photo Credit: Liza Hawkins