Okay, so I figured I oughtta fire this thing up again. So I have a new category, inspired by my 6-week Monday night cooking course that began tonight.
I’m taking a basic cooking course at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center, which is the new art building they’ve made out of the old Lorton Prison. It starts at 7pm and ends at 10pm, and is a stone’s throw from my school, so it’s both convenient and NOT at the same time. It’s an extra trip to Lorton on Mondays, and a late drive home after 3 hours on my feet…and I’m sure that tomorrow morning I’ll feel like I just turned right around and drove back again. But that’s okay.
The chef is cool. She already had a catering business when she entered culinary school in St. Augustine, FL, and was catering for four different hotels before she moved back up here to this area. She seems to know her stuff pretty well. There are two other women in the class, as well as a 10th-grade boy who has culinary school aspirations of his own. We all meshed pretty well…good group. Apparently, there is a fifth who couldn’t come tonight. The space we meet in isn’t very big, and there’s only one little sink and not a lot of counter space, but we have enough room to work. On the front table was a Cuisinart, two griddle-type things, a double-hot plate(?) thing that looked like it had gas burners (I didn’t get to play with it), and a bunch of bowls, as well as a giant tub of cooking implements and an enormous pile of vegetables.
Night One was all about cutting. We had thin little plastic-sheet cutting boards that worked great…they were flexible and actually way easier to use than a wooden cutting board that wobbles and stuff falls off of. Turns out my knives were just right, and plenty sharp enough (though she said it looks like one had been in a battle…hey, they’re probably older than I am and they’re the knives I grew up with, so I’m determined to use ’em). We learned several different cuts –
**DISCLAIMER – I NEVER LEARNED TO COOK PROPERLY. I’M GOING TO BE GUSHING ABOUT THINGS THE REST OF YOU PROBABLY KNEW IN THE THIRD GRADE. FORGIVE ME.**
– slice, dice, chop, mince, julienne, chiffonade, and brunoise. I did pretty well with all of them…the way she showed us to dice an onion was friggin’ awesome and makes me feel like I’m on Top Chef. We practiced on red and white onions, red and white potatoes, leeks, cucumbers, and melons. Oh, and GARLIC. We learned how to attack a whole HEAD of garlic and turn it into a pile of minced garlic in like two minutes. It was pretty cool…especially the part where you whack it flat with your knife blade. =) I dug that part. I think my garlic press will have to go…Tony was right, it just ruins it.
Sooo…we basically made four different kinds of mush and a really cool potato dish. I wasn’t big on the mush, though the others liked it. The first was a Chilled Melon Soup, which is meant to be frozen into a sort of sorbet. She referred to it as a summer salad, and it was definitely the kind of thing you could start out a summer outdoor grilled dinner with as an appetizer, or finish with as a dessert. It used cantaloupe, honeydew melon, real lemon juice, coconut milk, fresh chopped mint, fresh grated ginger, and – get this – CHAMPAGNE. (We used amaretto tonight.) It wasn’t bad…I think the reason I didn’t love it is that Bath & Body Works has brainwashed me to the point where, in my head, melon = body lotion. It was actually pretty good. The chef said the more frozen it is, the more she likes it, and I think she’s probably right. We didn’t have enough time tonight for it to really freeze properly. If you can get it sweet enough, it’s probably a great substitute for ice cream. We made one kind with honeydew and one kind with cantaloupe. She made a bowl of it, half-and-half, with a sprig of mint on the top, and it looked all pretty – even in styrofoam. ;)
The next kind of mush was a chilled cucumber soup that had a lot of ingredients, but mainly turned out to be cucumber mush with lots of DILL. I can’t comment a lot on it on this dish because I didn’t make it myself…the other two gals did. It was okay – nothing I’d make on my own, though.
The Potato and Leek Soup was actually pretty good. It can be hot or cold, but I think I liked it hot, and I don’t think I would like it if I tried it cold. The main point of this dish, I think, was to get “chicken stock” into our vocabulary. Everybody seemed to know about this already but me. All I had was a dim memory of a college roommate staring at me, aghast, soon after I move in, and exclaiming, “I almost forgot how to make chicken stock from scratch!” Not long after, she dropped out of college to be a Civil War reenactor and owned a lot of doilies, so I associated chicken stock with her and promptly banished it from my mind. But apparently there’s something to this stuff, and I will have to master it. She recommended a substance called Better Than Boullion that she swears by and says she is never without.
But the star dish of the night was our Grilled Red Potato Salad with Bacon-Bleu Cheese Vinaigrette. Now THIS was good. The kid and I made it. And it involved BACON FAT. And LOTS of it!! I made the comment, “So, this is NOT ‘Cooking Light,’ eh?” and the chef said NOPE, not tonight…tonight was about flavor and getting us interested. It worked. This was a hot potato-salad-type side dish that involved almost a pound of double-cut hickory-smoked bacon sauteed with onions and mixed with grilled red potatoes. Over top of it, we poured this made-from-scratch vinaigrette we’d put together with white-wine vinegar, extra-extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, raw sugar, and salt-and-pepper. It smelled SO GOOD I wanted to jump in the bowl with it. =) It was pungent, too…cleared your sinuses right out! Anyway, that went over the potato-and-bacon mixture with a handful of freshly chopped parsley and then got topped with bleu-cheese crumbles. It was REALLY GOOD!!! I loved it. Even scored a bit of leftover to bring to lunch tomorrow. =)
Before tonight, I’d never chopped fresh parsley before…had no idea it smelled so good. I’d never mixed olive oil and vinegar. I’d never have thought salt and sugar could mix together in a savory dish. I’d never even touched fresh ginger, much less peeled it and grated it myself. I’d never pinched fresh mint leaves in my fingers. And I’d never stood in one place and smelled, all at once, parsley, pepper, lemon juice, ginger, olive oil, garlic, white-wine vinegar, honey, and amaretto…all mixing together in the kind of heady swirl that suddenly reminded me of the hallucinations the little rat guy used to have in Ratatouille (which I now have to go back and watch, haha). It was really, REALLY cool.
I’ve just never been a foodie. Cooking has never been something I felt the least bit competent at. And now I feel like someone has cracked open the door. I’ve got the beginnings of a vocabulary now. I’m envisioning the kinds of knives I want to get eventually. And I hope we learn a LOT more.
She said by the time she’s done with us (in six weeks), we’ll be doing 7-course meals. WOW. I can’t imagine…but I can’t wait, either. =)