Friday, November 30, 2007

And now for something a bit more grown-up

I know things have gotten a little (okay, more than a little) baby-centric around here. So allow me to fill you in on the cooking class/demonstration we attended earlier this week.

Last year for Christmas, my parents got us a gift certificate to attend one of the classes at a local cooking school. Not to be confused with a culinary academy, a cooking school is quite a bit more informal, with fun one-off classes on a wide variety of topics. Unfortunately, this particular place holds its sessions on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, so we kept finding that school and work got in the way of our attending. Finally though, this past Tuesday we got our chance to go play.

The class was themed around Tuscan cuisine. The instructor took a group of 25 or so people over to Italy earlier this month, where they toured sheep and olive farms, got to cook in local restaurants, and basically just had a grand old time. She had a slide show of photos from their trip running on her laptop as we waited for the class to begin.

Upon our arrival, we were given a packet containing the recipes that would be covered in the class. This particular class was demo-style, rather than hands-on, so we seated ourselves in a nice little viewing area and watched the instructor's assistants do some prep work. One was frying sage leaves; another started boiling pasta water. Soon enough, it was time to get started.

The instructor, Cherie, has one of the more effervescent personalities I've encountered in a while. She excitedly filled us in on the recent Tuscan journey, with animated descriptions of people they met and near-mishaps trying to get foodstuffs back through Customs. She plugged Trader Joe's products at almost every opportunity (who can blame her?) as she set to work preparing the evening's dishes.

First up was a simple puff pastry brushed with olive oil and sprinkled with Tuscan salt, which I understand to be any sort of sea salt/herb mixture. She showed us how to make batter for fried sage leaves and allowed us to sample some pears with chestnut honey and pecarino toscano cheese. She set to work on a pappa al pomodoro ("typical of the region" they were told, as they were served it seven times during their eight-day trip) and reduced some red wine in garlic and olive oil for "pasta of the big fat drunk." She made a tarta de la nonna (grandmother's pie) with ricotta filling and an arugala salad topped with thinly-sliced ribeye steak almost rare enough that "a good veterinarian could bring it back to life." At the end of the 90-ish minute demonstration, the whole feast was plated and we were served in the dining area. Everything was fabulous (I'm looking forward to making the pappa al pomodoro now that it's getting on toward soup weather again), and we learned some nifty new tricks for the kitchen. All in all, a fun evening!

One of the bonuses from the night, we learned about a nearby market called Sunland Produce, which Cherie described as "multi-cultural and multi-fabulous." Sounds like there are all manner of wonders to be found there, from bizarre fruits and vegetables to exotic cheeses and meats you have to work up some courage to try. We'll have to check that out soon, and I'll let you know how it goes. :)

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