Blind Kitchen Sink Challenge

Experimenting in the kitchen with friends

This is an idea, a concept, a creative way to bring friends together to share in a meal. It was born in the world of mothers: busy, working mothers finding companionship after grabbing whatever ingredients were in their refrigerator and pantry, contributing them to a pool and meeting up to create a meal and enjoy good times together. These meals are memorable and so much fun. This concept blossomed and grew.

Jess Farley (right) with her cooking buddies. Photo by Wyatt Bultman.

We women — my friends who share my love for the culinary arts — rejoice in the preparation of food, and also in the indulgence of sitting around a table, sharing a leisurely meal and wonderful conversation. There are similarities to kitchen shows such as Chopped, but our goal is collaboration, not competition. We embrace the concept of working together, and we all look forward to reveling in the experience and sharing in the surprising flavor explosions. It’s even more special because we choose to carve time out of our busy lives to do so.

I hope you take on this challenge! Use what you already have in your refrigerator, freezer and pantry. The experience is the reward, and the shared meal is the cherry on top of the sundae. You’ll also learn some shortcuts and new food-preparation tricks from one another. This is a very tasty experience based on the love of food and friendship. 

Follow these tips for a successful, delicious, surprising meal:

• Invite four to six of your favorite people — the more the merrier!

• Each guest must contribute three or four ingredients to the pool, but keep them a secret: Part of the fun is not knowing what your friends are sharing.

• Set yourself up for success by having a pantry stocked with good, all-around basics to use to fill in the gaps throughout your culinary adventure. 

• Make a soundtrack with some funky music and a good beat to get the kitchen energy moving.

• Have a blast!

Step One: Inventory the Ingredients

Take stock of the contributed ingredients, and then put your heads together to plan a menu. The goal is to use all the ingredients. When my good girlfriends and I tested this concept, our pooled resources supplied these ingredients: Brie cheese, fresh basil, poblano peppers, speckled string beans, butternut squash, roasted pumpkin seeds, kielbasa sausage, kale, golden beets, Door County Creamery truffle chèvre, shrimp, zucchini and sweet peppers.

Step Two: Create the Menu

Our menu consisted of three courses (recipes are on the following page).

Course 1

Stuffed and Roasted Sweet Peppers 
Mini peppers filled with Brie cheese, sausage and fresh basil, and finished with a balsamic glaze

Course 2

Poblano Butternut Squash Bisque 
Topped with truffle chèvre and roasted pumpkin seeds

Course 3

Grilled Shrimp and Sausage Skillet
Tossed with wilted kale, beets, speckled string beans and zucchini sautéed in rosemary-garlic butter 

Once we had decided on the menu, we got to work, dicing and slicing and prepping all the ingredients. We were roasting squash in preparation for the soup and grilling sausages.

“Can we all just move in together and do this every night?” one friend asked.

We got the prep work done fairly quickly, then transitioned to the fun part: getting the flavors dialed in just right. How much salt? Which spices? How long should I let this cook?

Include everyone in the process, and remember to listen to one another. It was so much fun to see which ideas and concepts we all brought to the table. The best part for me was knowing that we were all stronger together in figuring things out than we were as individuals. We shared our shortcuts and ideas, made up new words and laughed — we laughed a lot! In my opinion, laughter is the best medicine for a happy life. 

And I promise you: When you finish with your evening, your belly will be full of great food prepared with love, and your heart will be filled with joy! What will fill your belly and soul during your blind kitchen challenge?

Stuffed and Roasted Sweet Peppers
Preheat the oven to 375°F.

​​Grilled kielbasa sausage (grill sausage; then remove from casing and crumble)
1 cup Brie cheese, rind removed and remaining cheese cubed
½ cup fresh basil, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
12–15 mini sweet peppers, tops cut off and seeds removed
Balsamic glaze

While the oven is preheating, mix the grilled sausage, Brie and basil in a bowl until well blended. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Place the peppers on a parchment-lined sheet pan, and parbake for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Using a spoon, stuff each pepper with the Brie-and-sausage mixture. Place the peppers back on the sheet pan, and roast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the peppers begin to brown and the cheese filling begins to ooze out. 

Remove the peppers from the oven, and arrange them on a plate. Finish with a drizzle of balsamic glaze and a sprinkle of fresh, chopped basil.

Poblano Butternut Squash Bisque
Topped with truffle chèvre and roasted pumpkin seeds

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

1 butternut squash (medium large), cut in half, with seeds removed
Olive oil
Coarse salt
3–4 poblano peppers, grilled or oven roasted, with charred skin removed (Keep the seeds if you like the spicy heat, or remove them for a milder flavor.)
5–6 cups chicken broth
1 cup apple cider
1 tsp nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Truffle chèvre
Roasted pumpkin seeds

Drizzle the squash with olive oil and a sprinkle of coarse salt. Bake on a parchment-lined sheet pan for about 30 minutes. Remove the squash from the oven when it’s fork tender, set it aside and let it cool.

Remove the skin and add the squash, poblano peppers and chicken broth to a soup kettle. Using an immersion blender, blend all the ingredients until they’re silky smooth. (We added about a cup of apple cider, a teaspoon of nutmeg and lots of freshly ground pepper to finish the soup. The flavors were layered and complex.) Bring the soup back to a gentle boil.

Before serving, add a quenelle of truffle chèvre and a sprinkle of roasted pumpkin seeds to the top of each cup of soup. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Grilled Shrimp and Sausage Skillet
Tossed with wilted kale, beets, speckled string beans and zucchini sautéed in rosemary-garlic butter

1 lb fresh, wild-caught shrimp, with shells and tails on
Olive oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh rosemary (large sprig), finely chopped, stem removed
2–3 cloves garlic, diced
3–4 Tbsp butter 
3 golden beets, cubed and roasted
1 zucchini, chopped into cubes
½ lb speckled string beans, ends snapped
1 head fresh kale, chopped, ribs removed
¼ cup chicken broth or white wine
1–2 kielbasa sausage links (grilled at the same time as the sausage for the stuffed peppers), sliced into circles

Toss the shrimp in a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and approximately 1 teaspoon of the chopped rosemary and half the diced garlic. Set off to the side to marinate for 10–15 minutes.

Heat a large, cast-iron skillet to medium-high heat. Add the butter, the rest of the rosemary and the rest of the garlic. Once the butter is melted and the garlic is starting to sizzle, add the beets, zucchini and speckled string beans. 

Sauté for 5–10 minutes — long enough to allow the beans to sweat and the zucchini to wilt and start to become translucent. Add the kale and a drizzle of olive oil and the broth or wine. Turn the heat down to medium low, cover the skillet and steam the kale for about 3 minutes. Uncover and give it a good stir. Add the grilled sausage at this point. We precooked it on the grill, so it only needs to be heated through.

In the meantime, grill the marinated shrimp. This step will not take long — only about two minutes on each side. They’re finished when they start to turn pink. 

Add the grilled shrimp to the skillet, give it another big stir, and add salt and pepper to taste. We set a bottle of hot sauce on the table, and my friend Jess also had homemade ramp butter that we added to our plates when serving.


This culinary adventure takes time, so we took advantage of it by incorporating some fun cocktails and mocktails into the experience.

The Mocktail: Blackberry Ginger Sparkle
Makes 4 servings

Photo by Sarah Koehler
This drink is surprisingly refreshing and absolutely delicious, and it was well received by two of the three children in tow.

Rosemary-infused sugar (¼ cup turbinado sugar and 1 Tbsp fresh, finely chopped rosemary blended together)
2 Tbsp blackberry jam
1 tsp elderberry syrup
24 oz ginger kombucha
2 12-oz cans blackberry seltzer water
Fresh blackberries
Fresh mint leaves
4 pieces candied ginger

Rim the glasses with the rosemary sugar, and add ice.

Add the jam, syrup and kombucha to a cocktail shaker, and give it a good shake. (You may need to do this step twice, depending on your shaker size.) 

Split the mixture equally among the four glasses, which should fill them halfway. Top off with the blackberry seltzer. Garnish with the fresh blackberries, mint leaves and candied ginger.

The Cocktail: Sake It to Me!
Makes 4 servings

1 750-ml bottle Nigori sake
8 Tbsp tart cherry juice concentrate 
Juice of 1 lime
Rosemary-infused sugar (see the recipe above)
Rosemary sprigs for garnish

Make each drink individually. Using a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add about 8 oz of sake, 2 Tbsp of cherry juice concentrate and a splash of lime juice. Give it a good shake. 

Rim a rocks glass with rosemary-infused sugar, and pour the contents of the shaker into the glass with no ice. Garnish with a sprig of rosemary.