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Friday Night Dinner: Small Plates and Big Flavors

The Joliet Junior College Friday Night Dinner on Sept. 21 featured unique flavor combinations paired with wine.

I have to admit it, I was intimidated by the idea of popcorn soup. I mean, I love the Chicago-style popcorn, you know the one where the cheddar corn and caramel corn are in the same bag. I also like the one where caramel corn is then covered in cheddar powder. And it was this that inspired the chef instructors and culinary arts students to create the popcorn soup with cheddar foam, sea salt and caramel. But still, the flavors of that popcorn transferred to the texture of a soup? Not sold.

So, the verdict was that it was good. It was a hot soup with caramel and a sprinkling of popcorn only at the top. The soup tasted like it was a cheese soup, but it was a bit salty for me. Also, my soup was a little different than the rest of the diners because the cheddar foam had flour in it and I am gluten-free.

My favorite dish of the whole evening was another one that was changed for my dietary needs. The roasted butternut squash agnolioti, brown butter, orange dust, roasted squash, spiced seeds was amazing. My dish was missing the pasta, but the roasted squash was phenomenal and the spiced seeds were nutty without being nuts. They were spiced with something a little hot, which made your tongue tingle, but they were crunchy. The two textures - crunchy seeds and squash, were great together. I would take a full bowl of the seeds as a snack.

I also quite enjoyed the roasted strip loin with a red wine sauce, mushroom mosaic, truffled potato, glazed carrot and broccoli puree.

The Friday Night Dinners are a chance every semester for culinary arts students to prepare a multi-course meal for paying customers. The get the experience of not only preparing food, which they do when they are working at main campus at Chef's Table or at the Renaissance Center for the multiple events, they also need to adjust to the dietary needs of the attendees, which is not always the case in the other situations.

"By the time this meal comes together tonight, they have mastered every single dish," Chef Instructor Mike McGreal said.

Students on Friday night plated 1,000 dishes for 100 guests.

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