Cooking and baking are fundamental life skills, and they are also enjoyable activities in their own right. Savvy hostesses can take advantage of this to bring some fun to their next gathering. Rather than trying to care for your family while working hard all day to feed your guests, why not invent some cooking games and activities to make dinner the entertainment, as well?
Until recently, only chefs knew about "black box" competitions using mystery ingredients. The success of competitive cooking shows like "Top Chef" and "Iron Chef America" has brought the idea into the mainstream. Divide your guests into teams, and challenge them to create meals using a specific ingredient. Another challenge could be using an ingredient in an offbeat way, like incorporating beets or ranch dressing into a dessert, or using an exotic food item like pomegranate syrup, truffle oil or orange-blossom water in a dish. Whenever you watch a competitive cooking show, ask yourself how you could adapt their challenges to your own party.
Cooking-related games and activities don't need to be competitive to be entertaining. Cooperative activities are also enjoyable, and less likely to cause stress. Choose a food that's familiar, but labor-intensive enough that it's best done in a group. Handmade ravioli are a fine example: everybody's eaten ravioli, but relatively few have made their own. Make or buy pasta sheets and mix up several fillings such as beef, cheese, lobster, spinach and ricotta. Another excellent choice are Asian salad rolls, filled with a range of vegetables, noodles and prepared meats or seafood.
Cooking games and food-related activities are also an excellent way to get your kids interested in cooking and baking. Once they're old enough, give your kids a squeeze bottle full of pancake batter and let them make their own pancake designs. Use chocolate chips, berries or raisins to give them features. Provide "logs" of celery and "planks" of carrot or cucumber sliced lengthwise, and challenge your kids to build houses with peanut butter or a thick dip as mortar. Have your kids flatten their own piece of pizza dough and dress it with favorite toppings to make a funny face.
When setting up cooking games, remember to keep things simple. Your kitchen only has so much space, and so many burners. Use folding tables if necessary to provide extra preparation space. Consider giving your challenges limitations, such as using only one burner or two pans. This speeds cleanup and also limits the advantage enjoyed by the better cooks. Pitting parents against kids or men against women can increase the fun, or you can try to make the teams roughly even in skill. Don't forget to have prepared food available as "Plan B," in case of unfortunate results.
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