Last week I had the opportunity to attend the 2nd annual Kneading Conference West, which happened to be right here in Mount Vernon at the WSU Research and Extension Center. I was thrilled to get a press pass for it, as the conference sold out some time ago. This is an amazing event!
The remarkable thing about this conference was how happy everyone was. It was more like a music festival than a professional conference. Everyone there was equally obsessed with bread and grains and ready to talk with everyone else about it.
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.
I tend to think I make a pretty good pie. Last Easter I made a strawberry rhubarb pie that vanished within seconds, and the Easter before that the blackberry pie I baked caused grown women to wander around the house moaning softly with delight. Every Christmas I bake sweet potato pie with bourbon (one of my personal favorites), and my Missouri-born husband thinks I make the best pecan pie he’s ever had. That said, however, when Kate McDermott contacted me about taking one of her Art of the Pie classes, you can bet I didn’t turn her down. For every prize winner I’ve turned out, there’s also been a sodden mess somewhere along the line, and I’ve always been curious which things are truly important in pie baking, as opposed to simply customary. In other words, how does it all really work?
So last Sunday, on a muggy afternoon in downtown Seattle, I joined five other women (including my friend Patricia of the blog Cook Local – see her post on the class here), to learn more of the mysteries of pie. Kate sets aside four hours for these classes, which turns out to be about perfect. We sat down at 3, and by 7 we were all walking out with hot pies.
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.
Have you eaten raclette? It’s a semi-soft, slightly stinky cheese from Switzerland, and it’s fantastic melted. We’ve bought it before, usually to put on hamburgers – a use I highly recommend. However, I had never had it served in the traditional manner, melted and poured over bread and vegetables, so when John DeGloria over at Slough Food announced a Raclette Night, we were keen to go.
The premise is simple, made even simpler with these nifty raclette grills. Unlike fondue, where you melt the cheese and dip stuff in it, here you melt the cheese and pour it over other stuff. There are cute little Teflon dishes to put under the broiler, and while the cheese heats up you can toast bread, or halved potatoes, or ham, or whatever you like on the top griddle.
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).
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.
This is proving to be a mighty busy week. We kicked it off (after a full Monday back at work) with a cooking class featuring dishes from the Andalusia region of Spain. Brian Tolbert of the Dulce Plate did the cooking, we did lots of chopping and running around with plates.
To keep the guests from expiring from hunger right off the bat, Brian started with some fairly simple mussels cooked in a vegetable and wine broth. They were good, of course (fresh mussels, duh), but I would have liked a slightly heavier broth and a lot of bread to sop it up. Fortunately, there was more food coming…
The second course was quite solid: piquillo peppers stuffed with a mixture of yellowfin tuna and bechamel sauce, then dredged in egg and seasoned flour and fried in olive oil. Wowzers, these were good. I could eat a couple of these for a meal.