We were lucky to have our proposal accepted by Foodbuzz for the January 24, 24, 24 meal event. Our idea was simple–turn the tables on our friends and have them prepare the meal. We had no intentions of shying away from work, but we wanted to get our friends involved. With a table full of various ingredients from all levels of the food pyramid, we gave them complete freedom to choose what would be on the menu. It was their chance to learn how to experiment in the kitchen, which is just how we love to cook.
As our friends walked into the door, they saw a long table full of fresh ingredients–heavy cream, butternut squash, avocados, ground beef, dried cranberries, oyster sauce, panko crumbs, walnuts, soba noodles, quinoa, feta cheese, pasilla chiles, red basil, blood oranges, yellow onions, forella pears, bacon, phyllo dough, ciabatta bread. The selection was varied and extensive. We split our friends into teams corresponding to each course–appetizer, main and dessert–and let them choose their ingredients. We had an original guestlist of eight people for dinner, but unexpected cancellations dropped the final number down to five. The smaller group caused us to revamp the way we split up our teams, but in the end, it worked for the best. As our friends worked, we would serve as a resource, answer questions, assist with any pre-prep and keep their cocktail glasses full.
They seemed to be slightly overwhelmed by all the choices on the table, but we milled around and described anything that may have been foreign and helped them figure out what ingredients work well together. After about 10 minutes, they chose their ingredients and got to work. They would not be able to consult any recipes, so whatever they created would be their own original speciality. With five people, there was one person working on the appetizer and two people on the main course and dessert, respectively. There were literally too many cooks in the kitchen, but we made the best of it.
We did not want to tell them how to make their dishes, but there were many questions that we were pleased to answer. Our goal was to show them that there are always different ways to go about a dish, and you don’t need a recipe. Plus, we wanted them to know that lots of fresh ingredients can make all the difference in food. Some of them had never worked with fresh herbs, so they were able to smell them, differentiate between thyme and rosemary, destem the herbs and chop them. We love citrus and zest, so we encouraged them to play around and add fresh lemon and orange flavors to their dishes. There was an array of liqueurs and wines on the table, and they experimented by adding white wine and brandy to their dishes.
We ate the appetizer first, which was a fried shrimp, fennel and edamame stuffed wonton with a spicy blood orange sauce from Brian. Our cooking friends took a break from their main dish and dessert to snack on the wontons. They were perfectly fried. After tasting them, Brian said the next time he would leave out the edamame and use a more prominent cheese. Everyone else enjoyed them, and we had a little energy boost to get back to work. Brian’s dish was done, so we had a little more room in the kitchen. A couple of people were surprised at how long it took to do the preparation for the meal, such as deboning chicken, destemming herbs, peeling shrimp, rolling out phyllo dough. We explained how we save time with a lot of pre-prep. We let them know that most fillings can be made the day before, herbs can be stemmed and chopped and meats can be marinated and stuffed before the dinner. There are many ways to cut corners and save time.
By the time we sat down for the main course prepared by Cynthia and Ashley, it was almost four hours after the party’s start, and people were hungry. We gathered together for toasted ciabatta crostini with mint flecked goat cheese, baked chicken thighs stuffed with mushrooms, capers cranberries and goat cheese and couscous studded with roasted peppers and feta cheese. It was the first time our friend Cynthia had even tasted capers, but she seemed to like them in the chicken. Although the couscous was delicious, Ashley wished there had been something else with a salty flavor such as olives. Otherwise, they were very pleased with the main dish.
For our last course, Eric and Jose finished off their dessert. Caramelized apples baked in phyllo dough with dark chocolate, fresh whipped cream and homemade caramel. Fancy! There were a couple of changes they would make if they tried this dessert again–more apples, no melted chocolate and a softer caramel. Although the caramel was good, it needed a bit more cream to give it the saucy consistency they would’ve preferred.
We didn’t let our friends use recipes, so we don’t have specific measurements to share, but we can give you a list of ingredients. Perhaps this will be helpful to them as well should they choose to try the dish again at home.
Shrimp and Edamame Wontons with Blood Orange Sauce: shrimp, fennel, cremini mushrooms, cilantro, serrano peppers, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, queso fresco, greek yogurt, blood orange, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, Chinese five spice powder, agave nectar, ginger, yellow bell pepper, garlic powder, citrus olive oil, wonton wrappers
Ciabatta Crostini with Minted Goat Cheese: ciabatta bread, citrus olive oil, goat cheese, mint, parsley
Chicken Stuffed with Mushrooms, Capers and Cranberries: chicken thighs, capers, garlic, rosemary, thyme, yellow onions, cranberries, portobello mushrooms, cremini mushrooms, butter, garlic, goat cheese, sage, salt, pepper
Couscous with Roasted Peppers and Feta: whole wheat couscous, chicken stock, vegetable stock, roasted red and yellow peppers, feta cheese, citrus olive oil, parsley, salt, pepper
Baked Apples in Phyllo Dough with Dark Chocolate, Caramel and Whipped Cream: lady apples, brown sugar, brandy butter, blood orange zest, nutmeg, walnuts, phyllo dough, dark chocolate, heavy cream, sugar
Following the feast, everyone voted on each course based on creativity, taste and presentation, but they were not allowed to vote on their own course. The winner of the evening with an average of 27 points out of a possible 30 was the shrimp and edamame stuffed wontons made by Brian. We didn’t want the others to go home empty handed, so we gave a gift bag to everyone. Good thing the friends were couples, so they would get to share the gifts.
Our friends were great sports about the entire evening. We knew they would have a good time, but we were not sure how everyone would react to cooking the meal themselves. Lucky for us, our friends were open-minded, eager to learn new things and cooperative. We were impressed with the quality and imagination behind each dish. We have to thank them, as well as Foodbuzz, for the opportunity!
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