We feel very lucky to have a third round with Foodbuzz’s 24, 24, 24 series. Literally the second the call for entries was announced, we had the idea. The old adage says ‘If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he’ll eat forever.’ We believe in that all the way. Quite frankly, we cook for ourselves all the time, and we cook for friends and family all the time. We are always ready to share our food experiences with other people, but not everyone can quite appreciate everything in the same ways as we do. We have a couple of friends who we’ve always deemed ‘picky’, whereas they find themselves to be ‘particular’. Semantics really. The interesting thing is that they both have a desire to expand their own cooking prowess in the kitchen, and that is where we saw a spot for the Duo.
We are not Martha Stewart and Gordon Ramsey, but we like helping and teaching people in the kitchen. Our goal is to take two specific eaters and work with them to construct a three course menu, assist in the shopping and, of course, pitch in with the cooking. In the end, our hope is that they will have put at least one or two toes outside of their comfort zone and end the evening with a couple of recipes that they can re-create anytime, on their own. On your marks…
The two friends of which we speak are Kerri and Lashaun. They are similar in a few of their likes and dislikes. Little to no cheese in a dish, nothing creamy or pudding-like in texture, immediately remove all sweet potatoes. No seafood at all for Lashaun and nothing slimy in texture for Kerri. It seems basic, but pleasing these two at a dinner party can seem like a feat. That being said, we chose these two because they would be a challenge. It would be a challenge for the Duo to tone down its natural tendency to want to explore flavors and ingredients and equally challenging for the two in question to rein us in. Somewhere early into the process, it became a healthy competition, so to speak. Amir and Kerri teamed up, and Chrystal and Lashaun formed a pair. We were ready to work.
Although lines had been drawn between the parties, we did want to work with each friend one on one to do the initial brainstorming and menu planning. Kerri and Lashaun’s final menus would be a secret to each other, which would make it all the more fun. It was clear straight away that these two would create surf and turf meals–Kerri went with oysters, Lashaun chose steak. From there, the menus differed drastically. Kerri’s tastes tend to move towards the luxurious and light, while Lashaun’s orb over homey and filling. Kerri knew for sure that she would want to try to replicate the charbroiled oysters from a recent trip to New Orleans. There would be a simple salad as well, along with lobster in the main course and a light, fluffy cake to round out the meal. Lashaun’s list was much longer. A starter appetizer of chicken and vegetable kabobs, steak for the entrée along with several sides and a carrot-based dessert.
Here were the final menus:
Lashaun: Maple Glazed Chicken and Vegetable Kabobs; Porcini and Herb Crust Steak with Apple and Shallot Red Wine Reduction; Fried Corn with Red Onion and Red Peppers, Brown Basmati Rice with Roasted Asparagus and Shitake Mushrooms, Maple Glazed Carrots; Carrot Cake Cookies; Pomegranate Apple Mojitos
The first step before the madness would be recipe research, then compiling the shopping list. Usually we start with our own idea of a recipe, but we wanted this to be something our friends could hold on to and keep, so we used recipes online and tweaked from there. Plus, it gave them a chance to compare and contrast recipes, note serving sizes, check the ingredients that go in each dish, etc. (Click the links above to check out what our friends found and what they used in the kitchen.) We brainstormed different versions and embellishments for each person’s respective dishes using the recipes as a starting point.
Neither party knew what the other was making, so we were the only ones privy to the full behind-the-scenes prep. Kerri was very specific in the meal’s components–the salad would have her favorite store bought dressing, light parmesan for the oysters, dim sum wrappers to make the ravioli, little to no cheese for the lobster filling and a chocolate cake light on the chocolate. Lashaun was not as particular about the ingredients, but he definitely did not want the rice to go anywhere near risotto texture or taste, which meant a longer, skinnier grain and no cheese in sight. Originally the kabobs were going to be bacon-wrapped, but in an attempt to be healthier, the pork was scrapped. We’d toss in a lot of fresh veggies wherever possible (like the corn and rice) and play around with fruit flavors for the wine sauce and mojitos. With finalized lists in hand, we were ready to get to spendin’.
The shopping process was very different for both of them. Kerri found it very enjoyable to locate bargains and navigate through one of our favorites stores (Trader Joes!).
Lashaun, on the other hand, was overwhelmed to start, but he admitted that he learned about various new ingredients and foods. We spent a couple of days whizzing between various stores for produce and cooking staples. Besides finding all of the right ingredients, we wanted to help our friends feel at ease with a list slightly longer than usual, but also giving them ideas of where to go to find certain products that are good quality and good prices. As usual, Trader Joe’s was one of the final stops where we were able to snag inexpensive cheeses, wine, broths, rice, vegetables and juices.
After that, it was a quick trip down the highway to Fish King where we picked up fresh oysters and the lobster who lovingly spent his last hours on this Earth known as Steak-Ums. Precious. From here is where we split to do the cooking. Now we will each tell a bit of the background on the team cooking experience.
Chrystal & Lashaun:
We had a lot of prep to do for our meal and very little time to do it, so first things first, we started chopping. Lashaun had never even seen real ‘live’ vegetables before, so this was the first time he’d held a bell pepper, mushroom or zucchini. He chopped everything into symmetrical pieces and also cubed the chicken (the slimey factor of the raw meat was a bit offputting for him). I showed him how to thread the skewers, and we both did a huge batch of kabobs. Next, it was the marinade. Lashaun and I checked out the recipe and just threw the ingredients in a bowl, tasting it as we went along to add different elements. The kabobs were basted and set aside to marinate.
The asparagus and mushrooms had to be roasted, so we tossed them in olive oil, herbs and popped them in the oven. As they cooked, we cut the peppers and onions for the corn and put them in a tupperware for later. We also chopped the apples and shallots for the reduction, setting them aside for later as well. Finally, it was cookie time! I’m in love with my Kitchen Aid, and it was time to share its magic with another person. Lashaun took control of the entire process–creaming the butter and sugars, plopping in the eggs and measuring all of the dry ingredients. I chopped the carrots for him and handed them over as he slid all of the final ingredients into the bowl. We dumped the batter into a separate container and got ready for Operation Move Out–move out the kitchen that is.
Here’s where we had to take a little break and move over to the second location. Have you ever been on a cooking roll only to be stopped and have to pick up again in a foreign environment?
Well that’s what happened! We drove our bags full of prepped food and ingredients to Kerri’s kitchen. (She and Amir live across the street from each other, and they were currently cooking at his apartment.) From there, we had to move it, move it, move it. Grill the kabobs, wash the streaks, crush the dried mushrooms and herbs for the steak crust, drain the corn, get the water boiling for the rice, chopping apple and red onions for the wine reduction, glazing and roasting the carrots, etc. It was like Iron Chef up in there!
The last thing to do was whip up the mojitos. Well actually, we made ourselves a congratulatory mojito just as the last parts of the meal were finishing. This was a feast worthy of a toast and toast we did. They really hit the spot! The final part of the day’s venture was to pack up the food, walk across the street and make plates for ourselves and the judge. Yes, you heard correctly. There was a judge, and we were ready to take home the gold! Check out Chef Lashaun’s first venture into the culinary world:
Amir & Kerri:
Kerri and I started out with home court advantage. Lucky for us we didn’t have to pick up in the middle of cooking and shift to a new and different kitchen. The first order of business was Steak-Ums, whom for some reason I kept calling Seagrums—and Kerri was quick to correct me at each transgression, “his name is STEAK-Ums!” We both have cooked live lobster before, but never by ourselves. It actually couldn’t have been easier. If you can boil a pot of water, you can cook a lobster.
Once our beloved friend Steak-Ums, not Seagrums (but he looks like a Seagrums), was fully cooked we jumped into prepping the rest of the meal while he cooled. Like our competitors across the street, we were dicing, slicing, roasting and grilling like there was no tomorrow! And then in the middle of all that madness, we had stop and extract the meat out of the lobster. As mentioned already, we ventured to Fish King to get the seafood. Good thing they opened the oyster shells for us for a small fee, so we dodged shucking them ourselves which saved an unbelievable amount of time and energy considering the fact we were already running low on both. But there was no time to fret, as we had to stuff the ravioli.
We used dim sum wrappers to dodge what could have been a time consuming nightmare if we had to make the pasta by hand. While she prepared each individual ravioli, I was left to keep the prep going. The salad was easy considering everything was pre-prepared, even down to the dressing. The soufflés, however, proved to be more challenging than anticipated.
Kerri wanted a light chocolate flavor, so we made a chocolate paste with cocoa powder and cream instead of using bittersweet chocolate. This definitely helped minimize the chocolate in the cakes, but maybe too much! To try and enhance the somewhat dulled chocolate flavor, we created a special mascarpone whipped cream to dollop on top of each cake.
Even with this minor obstacle with the dessert, we felt everything was coming together very nicely. And then, my grill went out. Yikes! How are we going to have charbroiled oysters with no working grill to charbroil them in? Our spirits were down for a moment, but any competitor knows ‘it ain’t over till it’s over.’ We regrouped and opted to let the oysters cook in the oven, and they came out beautifully! Perfecto! Muy bien! Yes yes! Now we knew we had a secret weapon ready to knock Lashaun and Chrystal out the park. And it was small, juicy and sitting on a half shell. We had it in the bag!
What impressed me most about Kerri was her precise vision on what the meal was supposed to look and taste like, down to the T. At every step, she had to taste the food to ensure it was just right before we progressed to the next stage—not too much chocolate in the chocolate soufflé, not too much cream in the cream sauce, not too much pesto in the pesto cream sauce. I am the type of cook that is inclined to add more of a little of ‘this’ and some of ‘that’ to ensure rich, bold flavors. Kerri, on the other, likes simplicity and light flavors. I was blown away by each particular and intentional step she took. Many times she was driving lead, and I was cruising in the back seat cheering her on to the finish.
After hours and hours of cooking, we felt it was only right to have this friendly competition finish out with a verdict. Who had the best meal of the night? Although both of our friends did a great job, they insisted on having a third party make the final decision. Our lovely judge ate full plates of both meals, which is a feat in itself. His favorite dish from Kerri’s meal was the charbroiled oysters. Out of Lashaun’s dishes, the judge enjoyed the kabobs and the carrot cake cookies. Although he called the evening a tie, the cookies seemed to stay on his mind all night long, so it seems like there was a little leaning to one side. (Go Lashaun!)
We feel like this was one of our most successful Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 experiences. Not only was there tons of great food, but our friends seemed to be happy with their achievements. Of course, we are happy that everything turned out to be a success, but we’re also proud of our friends for pulling together great meals. Now that these guys have been taught to fish, let’s see what they make for us sometime soon! Check out some of their feedback.
“The grocery experience was a tad bit overwhelming but fun/educational too. I had never even known about half the ingredients I needed to buy prior to this experience so I learned a lot about foods I enjoy in general and different types of healthy snacks that are out there too!...My opinion on the shopping process has changed very much. I think I am more inclined to go out and purchase my own set of spices and to look at various types of marinades now. I will also incorporate a lot of different types of veggies into my diet now – I never knew I enjoyed mushrooms as much as I did and green peppers will surely be incorporated into my weekly diet!”
“To work in my everyday menu – I would definitely buy a more “common” piece of steak and I would probably pre-season cook them on a sunday so that I could have them during the week and just cook my vegetables/sides daily – to decrease my time. I’m proud of the fact that I even know how to make a steak properly! And I learned a nifty “hand” trick to teach me how to gauge the “wellness” of my steak too which was really helpful…I’m very much more likely to cook for myself after this experience. As stated before, I feel so much more confident in the kitchen after having to do so much in preparing so many different courses. I feel like I want to entertain more dinner parties for friends, try various things that I wouldn’t typically think of in the kitchen, get adventurous and be more healthy!”
“The extra set of hands made it possible to achieve great results in a timely fashion. It was a good learning experience at times as my helper showed me how to do things like chop and prepare herbs…The meal turned out great. Everything tasted delicious. My favorite course was the lobster ravioli. My least favorite was the chocolate soufflè, as it came out rather soggy.”
“I would probably convert the ravioli recipe to use crab meat instead, because I can buy pre-shelled crab meat as opposed to buying, boiling, and cracking a whole lobster. This would save a lot of time in preparation…Eh, I’m not really inclined to cook more, but I’m not inclined to cook less. I was introduced to a couple new places to buy groceries and fresh seafood, though, so I might return to those stores in the near future.”