I’d been kicking around the idea of putting together some cooking classes that weren’t just canning & pickling focused. For starters, it’s a very seasonable topic, sort of a one and done class done at various venues around town, but also because I do more than just preserve food. I preserve food because I like to cook it, because I’m passionate about knowing exactly where our food comes from and I want to ensure that my family eats local all year long. Really, canning & pickling is just the first step, one small part of my cooking puzzle.
So there I was, kicking this idea around, trying to find a focus (why oh why does everything seem to require a freaking focus already?!?!?!) when I got an email from a friend, asking if I was interested in leading a cooking class for his department as their staff retreat. Would I? I love when the universe sends me signs like this, I really do. Dave’s a regular reader, so he had a few ideas of what he wanted me to teach them, but after a few suggestions, he left it up to me.
The hardest part was finding a space in which to do this. Budget was key, which ruled out a number of places. If only my kitchen wasn’t so small and dark, perhaps I could teach more than one person at a time out of here. One of his coworkers was able to get a church kitchen, which actually could not have worked out better. It was fairly well appointed and was made for a small group to cook together.
As this was an all-day class and Dave requested we do several dishes together, I had them start with lunch, which was pizza. Once that prepwork was done, including making the dough, from scratch, by hand, we moved on to the big attraction. Gumbo.
I’m really not sure there is anything as well suited to team work as gumbo is. There is plenty of chopping to go around, there is roux to be made as well as broth. I walked them through how I like to do it – using as many burners as I can. At one point, we had the broth simmering, sauce for the pizza cooking, roux browning and the holy trinity sauteing to start the gumbo.
Lunch was absolutely delish if I say so myself. We did a roasted butternut squash, sage and goat cheese pizza (which Dave had requested after reading that post) as well as a plain cheese pizza. Just yesterday I read a piece on Beyond the Flavor about Michael McCarthy of Dr. Ho’s Humble Pie making pizza at home and couldn’t help but notice his oven was much hotter than I set mine – 550 vs. 450. Inspired, I decided to experiment with that temperature and honestly, I have to say that that cheese pizza tasted just like one you’d get a pizza shop. I’m still patting myself on the back for using that bit of knowledge – so much so that I came home and have already started the dough for dinner.
Thankfully, no one else in this house had pizza for lunch, so there will be no lectures on their part about how pizza twice a day might not be healthy, not to mention boring. At least she got over the whole no cold pizza for breakfast thing.
I digress. After we feasted on our pizza lunch, we headed back into the kitchen. There, I showed them how to make the easiest and most divine chocolate cake ever. I love sharing that secret – that a handful of ingredients, assembled in 5 minutes and baked for 30, can fool everyone you know into thinking you are a baking genius.
One of the downsides of cooking around your camera, is that sometimes you get stuff on the lens. It does, however, lend a dreamy quality to the picture, doesn’t it?
We finished the day with biscuits. I got to expound on a bit about my biscuit theory and shared with them my whole grain version, even throwing a little bit of lard into the equation. After putting a few of our biscuits in the oven to be sampled, the rest were divided and packed up, to be baked later in the day at home. After all, who wants to spend a day cooking only to have to go home and do it all over again? Not only did everyone take home biscuits, they had been instructed to bring along tupperware and so everyone took home gumbo after sampling the finished product. It was declared a success and while I am still mentally critiquing myself as to what I can do better, I also changed some things on the fly that turned out pretty good. That’s the secret to good cooking (and life really), is being able to adapt without flinching. It’s all in the instincts. Can you convey that in a cooking class? I sort of think I did.