Let me tell you about this salad that chef Casey Schanen of Nell Thorn made at the cooking school the other night. Not that everything else he made wasn’t amazing, but the salad was the real eye-opener for me. Here’s what was in it: fresh arugula, roasted squash, arugula pesto, and warm ricotta cheese. Yeah.
I’ve been hearing a lot about making ricotta at home, but for whatever reason I’ve never tried it. It really is astoundingly easy, and as much as I love cold ricotta, it turns out I love fresh, warm ricotta even more. In this salad it fills the same role as fried goat cheese – the warm creaminess adds to the dressing and enriches the greens – but without the crunch (and oil). And ricotta has a fantastic springy texture in the mouth that I find addictive.
So Casey heated milk, stirred in salt and fresh lemon juice, and scooped out the curds into cheesecloth. I tossed the arugula with good olive oil and salt, and we portioned it onto plates with a sprinkle of roasted orange squash. A scoop of ricotta went on top of that, then a drizzle of garlicky arugula pesto with pumpkin seeds. That was it. I would eat salad more often if it was like this.
Last week we went down to Gretchen’s to help with Knut Christiansen’s latest cooking class. Once again the theme was tapas and paella, but he mixed it up with some different dishes and approaches this time. Sadly for me, a lot of this meant almonds, but I was hardly in danger of starving.
As usual, Knut did his shopping on the way down to the class and arranged his ingredients as beautifully as possible. It almost seems a shame to chop the things up to cook them.
We helped out at Gretchens Cooking School last night for the first time this season. This one was a food and wine pairing, with Jim Kowalski of Farm to Market Bakery doing the food and Renee Stark of Noble Wines providing the drink. Jim has a really nice feel for flavors – if you haven’t checked out his place in Edison I sincerely urge you to do so.
The menu for the class included green salads with tomato-goat cheese crostini, handmade fettucine alfredo with fresh Dungeness crab, and pear-ginger tarts. The salads were drizzled with a maple syrup and balsamic vinegar dressing which was surprisingly delicious, and Renee’s choice of a light French rose was a good match with the goat cheese toasts. I’m not generally a huge fan of green salad, especially when the dressing isn’t tossed with the greens, but this was very good.
The theme for Casey Schanen and Tom Saunderson’s class at Gretchen’s last week was ostensibly Seafood with Wine Pairings. If you ask me, the real theme was Butter.
This was some of our mise en place – see that pile of butter pats on the plate? We used most of that over the course of the evening.
We put together an appetizer plate for the guests so they’d have something to nibble on right away. There were fresh radishes and turnips, Nell Thorn bread and rosemary crackers, all being dunked into an amazing dip of butter whipped with green olives. Yes, it looks like guacamole – but it ain’t. Caution is advised, as this stuff is addictive.
In addition to all the other stuff we’ve been doing this month, we’ve helped out at three different classes at Gretchen’s Cooking School: Peter Belknap’s class on the food of Marseille, an all-Malbec tasting with Renee Stark of Noble Wines, and tapas with Knut Christianson. Lots of chopping, lots of dishes, and some fabulous food and wine. Here are some pictures showing highlights from the various classes (click on the images to see more info at my Flickr account).
Sorry for the radio silence this past week, but for the last eight days I’ve been out of commission with the nastiest cold/allergy/something-or-other I’ve ever had the displeasure of suffering through. Hack, cough. I’ve been eating, but for several days I completely lost my sense of taste – a distressing state of affairs.
Early in the week, Jon and I were signed up to help with a cooking class taught by our friend Peter. I felt that the customers might not appreciate my coughing into their food, so Jon went on his own, and he came back laden with fabulous leftovers. The class theme was Southern food, in particular New Orleans-style, featuring shrimp fritters, cornbread and chicken-sausage gumbo, and there was more than enough food for everyone. I lived off of that gumbo for the next several days, it being one of the few things that could penetrate my personal fog.
If you’ve managed to catch the crud yourself and need some hot soup full of pork fat, or if you’re just in the mood to celebrate Fat Tuesday with a little gumbo, here’s the recipe.
More dumplings! This was a class on Lebanese home cooking, with a focus on festive dishes for the holidays. Nahla Gholam, one of the owners of the fabulous store Mediterranean Specialties in Bellingham, demonstrated three recipes: sheesh barak, beet salad and roasted seven-spice chicken.
Sheesh barak, lamb dumplings in yogurt soup, is a very old and traditional dish. It incorporates some of my favorite flavors in the whole world, so there was basically no chance I wouldn’t like it. Making the dumplings was a little tricky, but Nahla insisted it was almost impossible to mess them up (ha!). The dough was just flour and water and very stretchy, which helped us recover from our mistakes.
We can always count on Tom Saunderson, Young’s Columbia rep, to bring good stuff when he does a wine tasting at Gretchen’s, and he definitely didn’t disappoint this time. And the food wasn’t too bad, either.
We started off with a bang, with flutes of sparkling Riesling from Pacific Rim Winery, and an assorted plate of goodies including scallops, shrimp, green onion gougères, green salad and blue-cheese-wrapped grapes rolled in pecans. The following wine, a 2007 Willakenzie Pinot Gris, went beautifully with the food but almost everyone had cleaned their plates already.
Last week at Gretchen’s we helped out with a class on Chinese cooking. Presented by Huiming Hsiao, the daughter of Taiwanese restauranteurs, the food was heavy on the pork, light on the vegetables, and extremely yummy. I’m hardly going to complain about too much pork. Besides, there was also chicken and shrimp.
Most of the food was served at once, but we started the guests off with a curried chicken skewer. Huiming brought the boneless chicken thighs pre-marinated in a lively blend of star anise, Sichuan pepper and curry, and all we had to do was skewer them and stick them in the oven.
The new season at Gretchen’s Cooking School has been going for a while, but we just had our first volunteer night last week. It was a wine tasting featuring Washington State wines, brought in by James and Brian from Dickerson Distributors.