Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Choose Your Own Culinary Adventure!

I love buffets. I love the idea of getting to choose from a wide array of dishes, mixing up tastes and having perogies, chow mein and sushi on my plate all at the same time. There's something so fulfilling about getting to eat food that you have chosen specifically.
Besides the buffet, there is a more trendy way to do this when you have company coming: the choose-your-own-toppings bar. It's like buffet micro-managing. You don't just choose which entree you want, you choose exactly what you want in that etree. Salad bars are old-stock but there are newer breaks in this wave that trend more towards the totally-fun-and-adventurous side of gastronomics. Back in May I helped throw a surprise 30th birthday party for my brother-in-law and arranged a sliders bar. We had your standard burger toppings, like pickles, tomatoes, cheddar, ketchup and mustard, and then we also branched out into things like mango slices, sundried tomatoes, fig BBQ sauce, grilled pineapple and goat cheese. It was an instant conversation starter. All day people were talking about what crazy things they put on their burgers and everyone seemed to have alot of fun with it.
Well, I've decided to reintroduce this "toppings bar" method into my home after a 6 month hiatus. First up: the hot chocolate bar!
Matt and I are having a bunch of people over for a turkey dinner around Christmas time; we're inviting over some of our friends who don't necessarily have lots of family around to spend the holidays with. Since we only have a 4 person table the meal is going to be a bit untraditional. Instead of sitting down to all the regular dishes, I'm going to make the regular dishes into more finger-food type dishes. For example, instead a heaping plate full of turkey with cranberries and stuffing with gravy, I'm going to make individual phyllo parcels stuffed with the turkey, cranberries, stuffing and gravy. We'll also have glazed carrot skewers and sweet potato muffins with a toasted marshmallow topping. But for dessert I wanted something fun. More fun than a regular cake or even just cake balls. So I chose the hot chocolate bar with a side of cookies. I'll have regular hot chocolate and white hot chocolate and add-ins like chocolate shavings, caramel syrup, peppermint schnapps, whipped cream, orange syrup and lots of different marshmallows. Something rather simple (way easier than the stupid Cardamom-Apricot Torte I made for Thanksgiving) but very personalized and fun!
In the New Year, my next plan will be to have a make-your-own-pizza party, a la Kramerica. I've got a great flatbread crust recipe which only needs 10 minutes in the oven so I plan to make a load of those, individually sized, and spread out toppings like figs, proscuitto, caramelized onions, olives, goat cheese (I put that stuff on everything), peaches, steak strips and fresh garlic. Everyone can top their own, I figure we can get 10 in the oven at a time, and then they can try a new set of flavors for the next round! And dessert that night: an ice cream bar with waffle cones for all with toppings such as shredded coconut with lime zest, chocolate sprinkles, stawberry syrup, cookie dough chunks and gummy candies!
I love layouts like this where people who want to can feel free to experiment, but those who are less inclined can always play it safe.

Mrs. Vander Leek ;)

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