I recently had the opportunity to cook for a group of my friends at a ski weekend getaway. If you like to cook for a larger party – for me, this is a number which exceeds 4 people – you can relate to my feelings of slight anticipation, but also nervousness, in trying to put together a tasty meal (hurdle #1: making a good impression). To boot, I was cooking in a kitchen with which I had no previous familiarity so I was thinking on the fly about how to create the dishes I wanted with what was available to me (hurdle #2: working in an unfamiliar kitchen). The oven was my biggest question mark, by far. Since I was cooking in a larger volume, I really wanted the dishes to be simple, quick, and easy to prepare (hurdle #3: feeding the hungry skiers in a timely manner).
An oven served me great in this goal, because I could be waiting for something to roast, meanwhile chopping ingredients for a salad, thus creating efficiency in the cooking process. Sure, if I burned everything we could just order pizza but what would be the fun in that (hurdle # 4: avoiding a kitchen fire)? I don’t know about you, but every oven I have ever used has been different. No two ovens have produced the same product. It is as though oven makers conspire together to have a good chuckle at our expense. Granted, oven cooking is not just about oven temperature, but involves other factors which affect cooking time, so I tried to control for these factors as much as possible (hurdle #4: using science to your advantage while cooking).
Now we come to what to prepare? We had one guest who was on a gluten-free diet, one who preferred a protein-heavy meal, and all who wanted a delicious dinner (hurdle #5: accommodating special diets). Because we were near the Pemberton Valley, I was lucky to have access to local sweet potatoes, chicken and mushrooms, so I included those in my dishes. I marinated the chicken in lemon juice, olive oil, and seasonings, and the sweet potatoes in oil and fresh rosemary. Everything went into the oven at once at 375 degrees.
The ratatouille recipe was modified to be prepared on the stove top (hurdle #6: adapting to space limitations in a kitchen), since the oven was already bursting at the seams at this point (however, the oven-roasted version is substantially tastier). Mushrooms were simply sauteed with some oil and seasonings.
All in all, it was a great meal, and I had a blast putting the dinner together and spending quality time with friends. The hurdles were well worth the jumping.