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.
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.
On the third and final day of Duckfest, we made confit, rillettes and pâté.
When we got to the farm on Sunday morning, the table was well laden with leftover bagels, plus a few sheets of freshly made cinnamon rolls.
As we ate breakfast, Kate was beginning the process of rendering the duck fat we’d collected off the carcasses the previous day. She was careful not to get the fat too hot – just enough to melt most of it off of the solids, but not enough to crisp them up.
On the second day, we slaughtered ducks.
Or, to be more precise, some of us slaughtered ducks, and we all plucked, butchered and ate them.
As you might expect, there are some slightly graphic photos in this post (although I left out the worst ones) so proceed at your own risk.
The day began cool and misty.
We met at the farm for strong coffee and vast quantities of freshly made bagels with homemade butter and smoked salmon. The bagels were fantastic – Neal’s wife is an amazing baker.
Garbing ourselves in fetching outfits and accompanied by extremely excited farm dogs, we went out to the duck shed and listened to Neal expound on the finer points of humane slaughter.
Despite growing up around livestock (my family raised dairy goats, chickens, ducks, pigs, sheep and rabbits at various times), I’ve never had much to do with the process of turning a live animal into food. I’m not particularly bothered by the idea of eating animals, as long as they are raised well and killed humanely. All of our food comes from other living things, whether plant or animal. However, it’s a little different when you’ve met the animal you are going to eat, and even more so when you are present at, or responsible for, its death.
Jon and I have been buying more and more of our meat locally, and currently have pork, beef and lamb in our freezer from Skagit and Snohomish County farmers. We haven’t yet found a good source for chickens or ducks, but we’re working on it. But the more we buy whole animals straight from the farm, the more we realize how little we know about actual slaughter and butchering practices, and how to get the most from an animal. I don’t picture us raising animals for meat (not on our current property, anyway), but I really feel that knowing our meat from the ground up makes us better cooks.
Hence Duckfest, a workshop designed for just this sort of situation. We spent the first weekend of 2010 on Shaw Island in Puget Sound, learning to slaughter, butcher and cook ducks. The class was put on by chef and farmer Neal Foley, aka Podchef, and by chef, teacher and author Kate Hill, who graciously came out from her farm and cooking school in Gascony to demonstrate cassoulet and confit making. I love her book (sadly out of print at the moment), and I’ve been wanting to visit her school for a long time, so this was a wonderful opportunity – a taste of France just a few miles from our house!
The workshop lasted three days. We ate a vast amount of amazing food and took far too many pictures, so to spare my patient readers I’ll be writing it up in three installments. Here is day one (Cassoulet):