Monday, August 30, 2010

Cooking class

Ok, I've admittedly been slacking, but once you start slacking, it's hard to stop.

The most exciting culinary news in my life in this gap was, hands down, the first cooking class I attended. Oh my goodness, it was absolutely delicious.

First off, we arrived a little early, about half an hour, but didn't end up regretting that. To our surprise, the location was the home of the chef, with the class kitchen located in her beautifully outfitted kitchen. On first approach, when we started down a country dirt road, I wondered if we were lost. A culinary paradise on an unpaved road, across from a cemetary? What were the odds?

But there it was, on a dirt road off another dirt road. The driveway was uphill and unpaved and must be a nightmare to navigate in the winter. The front yard was huge and decorated with beautiful ivy-covered arches, benches, fruit trees, and a huge weeping willow. The house itself was a deep wood brown with sharp roofs and windowboxes bright with scarlet flowers. The scene looked like something from Harry Potter. Navigating our way past giant herb beds and a variety of tomatoes, we got to the back of the house, which made us feel like we had been transported to the south of France in April or somewhere thereabouts.

The back deck was paved with red tiles and the sides were ivy-leafed and high. There was a massive stainless steel grill which brought us back to the food.

We enjoyed exploring all the little details of the gardens from the little, yellow-orange pear tomatoes to the overflowing frog pond to the pear tree in front and the cottage sign by the front door. When we were finally allowed in, we were even more amazed at the sight in front of us. A giant six-burned viking range, complete with grill portion and dual convection ovens, and a massive, unbelievably well-stocked viking fridge, all stainless steel with no fingerprints. The walls had yards and yards of magnetic strips lined with thousands, maybe tens of thousands of dollars worth of Wusthof knives (which I absolutely fell in love with). There were shelves with stacks and stacks of all the stuff in short supply in our kitchen, from cutting boards to mixing bowls. There was a tableful of dry pantry goods, which I'm proud to say, ours is comparable with! (maybe even a bit better stocked on the asian side)

We chatted and chatted, but the best was when we began cooking. First we made a trip to the huge herb beds. I want to know how she fertilizes them, because I saw the most massive basil bush (it can only be described as a bush) that I have ever seen. It was maybe...2+ feet tall and the same wide and the leaves were picture-perfect, glossy and green and huge. We cut sprigs of thyme and chives and got handfuls of mint, all organic and all massive and delicious.

We began with the mint chocolate creme brulee (yes, mint chocolate, no, I can't imagine having "normal" creme brulee after that). We steeped the fresh mint leaves in heavy cream and separated the eggs. Aside from the guy and I, there was only one other student, so we got plenty of hands-on instruction and work time. From there, the chef led us expertly through the steps for smoked sweet corn souffle (honestly, I could leave the souffle and just have the corn, it was that good). There was the perfunctory sales pitches, such as the $60 stove-top smoker and a $12 silicone spoonula, but we passed those breezily.

We dipped and dodged and winded through the dessert and souffle and the passable mashed red potatoes (personally, I like them with a bit of texture left to them, as well as some garlic). Although the red potatoes did offer us an occasion to realize just how much better the Wusthof knives were compared to the ones we have in the kitchen. I'm still pining for them..

The finishing touch was a beautifully grilled filet mignon with a deliciously simple sour cream and green onion sauce. The chef put the finishing touches on the presentation and when we finally ate, it was with great relish and appetite, since it was halfway to 10 already, much later than our usual tuck-in time.

It was an absolutely amazing and delicious time and while I have other delicious bits to share from the farmer's market, which we finally got to this past weekend, and a slew of movie and book references, I think the cooking class occasion deserved to shine in its very own spotlight, the way it will in my memory. What an amazing birthday experience!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oww..banana bread

While cooking's been chugging along the past few days, typing hasn't and it was the thought of having to type that deterred my blogging. Somehow I managed to slice my finger open...on the coffee maker. Yes, it's made of plastic. I was apparently in a bad luck spell for that afternoon.

Anyway, the cut's mostly healed, so I'll share what's been happening.

The guy and I splurged and went out for sushi at our favorite place Saturday. The restaurant he took me to on our first date, etc. I simply can't resist their salmon nigiri (well it's difficult to resist the stuff in general, but the guy loves their tempura rolls the best, too). Sooo..we stopped for a snack which turned into a full meal. I'm embarrassed that I finished my salad and miso soup...and proceeded to commandeer the guy's too. Well, he wasn't going to finish them!

Sunday we tried to use up some of that huge thing of bean sprouts we got and made pad thai again. No complaints here, it was just as tasty! We figured out that when we make it, it costs maybe...$1? At the most $2 per giant serving, I'm talking 8 oz of noodles serving. Well, really! The limes we got were on sale, $0.50 for a bag of 10-15 of them. But they're still only a quarter each normally. The rice noodles are $1.50 for a 16 oz bag. Then it's just sauce, which is probably a quarter or less, especially if you buy bulk. A dime for an egg, a penny for some cilantro garnish. It tastes amazing and it's cheap as heck, I wonder why we were afraid to try making it before?

Anyway..the most notable things of the rest of the week consisted of an amazing broccoli salad recipe we found. It's easily the best of its kind that the guy and I have ever had, and we both wolf it down. Speaking of which, the guy is literally craving veggies at meals now! I'm very proud.

Broccoli Salad

Anyway, the salad has some...bacon and cheese, BUT you're still getting almost all the nutrients in the broccoli, and I think that benefit outweighs the cons of moderate amounts of each. Basically we take a big ole head of broccoli and chop it up into very little florets. Since broccoli is such a sturdy veggie, the smaller the pieces, the better the dressing gets absorbed. While you're doing that, you crisp up a few strips of bacon. We use four because we usually have two strips each anyway. See, a moderate amount!

The dressing is boyfriend's territory, but the highlights are a little mayo (much less than your typical creamy dressing) and rice vinegar to thin it down and add some zing. Some lemon juice for brightness and...probably not much else. Maybe some secret ingredients of his.

After you finish the bacon and take it out and break/rip it up in little bits, (and here's my favorite part that the heart-healthy or heart-attack-wary might skip..) you stir fry the broccoli a bit in the bacon grease. Not till it's limp or even very cooked, just to get the smokiness of the bacon in a bit more and help the color. There's a point where it should be very bright green, after only a couple minutes!

Then you mix it all up and let it sit for 20 minutes, an hour, or however long you can resist, and voila, absolutely delicious broccoli salad with a tangy yet smooth dressing. It's amazing, I want more already!

Banana Bread

Yesterday, when the guy got home, I had a very nice after-work snack for him. We have this candle warmer and banana bread candle that his parents gave us. When we have it on, the whole apartment smells like bananas, and I used to use it quite often just before he got home. But today he noticed there was actually something on the stove, was kinda like a kid at Christmas. He loves anything to do with bananas. Actually, we still have some banana wine in the fridge. He seemed quite surprised how I managed to make it. The conversation went something like this:

Him: "'d you make this?"
Me: *clueless look* "With bananas?" *typical smartass reply*

We had 3 very spotty ripe bananas and I'm somewhat picky about the dark spots, so what better way to use them up? Surprisingly, we had all the ingredients necessary already. That's a surprise. I guess we're getting to that point of having a stocked pantry! In only three months of cooking on our own, too.

Anyway, it was your basic flour, eggs, butter recipe. A little salt to bring out the flavors, a little baking soda for lightness, and brown sugar for added sweetness. I was afraid it'd be too sugary, but I love the gentleness and flavor of brown sugar. It came out delicious and had just enough time to cool before the guy got home. You'd think I'd planned it!

Of course, there was a nightmare moment when, as soon as he saw it, he reached for the loaf pan with both hands. I had a horrified moment of a slow motion "Noooooooooo" when he did that, as I thought it'd still be hot. Actually I think I squeaked "DON'T TOUCH THAT" but it was too late of course, and only resulting in his holding the pan while turning towards me with a deer-in-headlights expression. The guy has this...really, really bad habit of grabbing things that come out of the oven. Thankfully he's stopped trying to grab things from INSIDE the oven, but still, there are moments.

Lucky for him, the handles of the loaf pan had cooled enough that he didn't burn himself at all. The bottom would have burned him, had he touched it, and the handles were still a bit too warm for me, but, sigh of relief, it was fine.

Ay yai yai yai yai, Lord Zordon...