Especially this time of year, food brings people together. Are you looking for a fun and non-threatening way to try new foods, or thinking of what to do when you get together with friends? Try this… host an evening where making the dinner itself is the main event by preparing a mystery menu as a team competition.
First, cajole your friend with the largest kitchen to be the host of this event. Consider the kitchen, counter space, tables, and the availability of an outdoor grill as an extension of the kitchen.
This is how the night unfolds: before everyone heads to the grocery store, each individual, couple, or team puts their name in a hat; each name that you pull is responsible for shopping for one course of a menu, including appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert.
When you are shopping, try not to look in each other’s carts, for this is part of the game because when you all meet back at the house you re-draw names and trade groceries. Each person or team then must make the chosen course with the groceries purchased by the original team. When we do this with our friends the basic items in the pantry and fridge at the host house are free game.
Cooking like this is a great way to try new things and have some fun doing it. Don’t worry about not having a formal culinary education or eating the courses out of order. I’m the only trained chef among the group of friends we’ve done this with and I’m always surprised at the creativity, and have yet to eat anything really terrible.
More than once I have had a specific dish in mind when purchasing ingredients and in the end saw something totally different. This activity has been somewhat of a New Year’s Eve tradition when we have quite a few hours to fill.
However, for all the fun we have, and considering all the news stories you hear about food borne illnesses, I am surprised at the lack of sanitation and safety I see in a household kitchen. Wash your hands, clean and sanitize the kitchen, then wash your hands again before you start slicing and dicing. If you asked my students what I spend the most time talking about they would probably say safety and sanitation.
Safety is first because you cannot work if you hurt yourself and sanitation because you do not want to hurt anyone else. Here are some basic rules to follow. 1) Wash your hands first and rewash them often. 2) Get a meat thermometer and use it. 3) Cool and reheat foods quickly.
Did you know that there is what is called a temperature danger zone? The range of temperature when bacteria grow the quickest is between 41-135 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep foods out of this range as much as possible.
Here is a quick but tasty appetizer to dazzle your friends. It’s a fun and easy recipe to try out for the holidays. Good luck, wear comfortable shoes, be safe, and have fun.
For the filling:
1 medium Spanish onion, small dice
1 -12 oz package of your favorite mushroom (I used button mushrooms)
2 oz butter
1 pint heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
8 oz of your favorite cheese (I have used Cheddar, Gorgonzola, and Provolone)
1) Dice the onion (1/4 inch dice) and sauté with the butter over medium heat.
2) After the onions start to caramelize, turn the heat down and cook to rich brown color. (This is when the sugar is released and they start to brown, NOT burn)
3) Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until dry and they start to develop color (this is where they start to get flavor)
4) After the mushrooms have sufficient color, add the heavy cream and slowly reduce until you have a thick sauce. Cool it down in an ice bath or in the refrigerator, then it’s ready to go into the tart shells.
5) Fill the shells, top each one with your cheese of choice and bake until the cheese is melted and the filling is piping hot about 180?.
For the shells I use a basic pie dough recipe or to save time you can buy pre-made dough.
1) Roll out dough to about 1/8 of an inch thick and cut into twelve 3 ½ inch circles, enough to fit into a standard 12-muffin tin.
2) Line each muffin space to about ¾ of the way up the sides
3) Par-bake the crusts to about ¾ of the way done then fill with mushroom filling, top with cheese and bake.
4) Serve on a bed of mixed greens with a light drizzle of balsamic vinegar reduction.
Kristian Smith is one of the culinary arts instructors at The Lorain County JVS. He is a Certified Exexcutive Chef and is an Approved Culinary Evaluator. Kristian loves teaching, cooking and restoring cars. He lives in Elyria with his wife, Cate.