Friday, 2 November 2012

Collaboration in the Kitchen: Executing a Menu with PEAS (and I Don't Mean the Pod)

Charring some bell peppers for ratatouille
Every semester, members of People Endorsing Agricultural Sustainability (i.e., PEAS) gather for a Slow Cook dinner at the home of PEAS advisor and professor of "Food for Thought" (a first-year seminar) Evelyn Frolking. A few weeks ago, I was extended the invitation to join them for their dinner and to help with the creation of a few dishes. And join them I did, as we orchestrated a collaborative effort of from-scratch dishes to produce the meal presented in this post. Trust me when I write that the environment was quite simply a sort of organised chaos (this will save the trouble of muddling the multiple dishes concurrently made within a very quick 90 minutes!).

The first dish out of the oven and into our unquestionably hungry bellies was an experimental quick bread of sorts. Having gained a beautiful golden brown colour (especially considering how neutral it looked going into the oven), the heat seemed to add a toasted, nutty layer of flavour to the grains used in the bread. With that said, I wonder if the grains should have been soaked in water over night to break down some of the fiber as it turned out to be a bit on the drier side (saved, however, by the fairly liberal addition of honey to both the batter and the exterior). Still, the bread's rusticity added to the general theme of the dinner.

Our mouths well exercised after the bread, we were ready for our main courses which included handmade gnocchi (formed individually with love by the students) in a Mornay sauce, and ratatouille-- the components of which were diced by the students and then stewed early on in the dinner prep. For the gnocchi itself, it either needed much more flour or much less cooking time, as each piece held its shape but each bite turned out to be flat though nevertheless tasty. [Multiple posts have recipes of each of the following, but here are a few worth visiting throughout the blog: gnocchi, Mornay sauce, ratatouille]

The main courses were accompanied by a side salad (seen in the background of this plated image), and followed soon after by a thin yet creamy squash soup made by the students alongside the ratatouille prep.

For dessert, we came up with an apple cobbler variation of the one I had instructed for the Denison Sustainability Fellows' dinner. This version lacked the cinnamon and the batter was a bit thinner, and was actually closer in execution to my original recipe. Though I had left it in there a bit too long, I think it's safe to say folks liked it.

But perhaps one of the stars of this show was the homemade pumpkin pie. As was the case for the squash soup, if the pie had been given a few minutes to really cool down it would of had a bit more body and bite to it. That said, it was particularly creamy, homey and most clearly reminiscent of the fall season.

And it is on this note that I sign off very full and thankful for the opportunity to join PEAS for this very fun dinner! For these and additional photos, click here.

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