Monday, September 21, 2009

Cooking School for Dummies

My best friend Dori is the sort of person who phones just to tell you she made the most fabulous Potatoes Au Gratin with Gruyere that you just have to try.

When her children were infants, instead of relying on store bought baby food, she mashed sweet potatoes and peas from scratch. As her kids grew into toddlers, Dori insisted on cooking them homemade chicken nuggets since she couldn’t stomach serving them the frozen kind.

A bonafide foodie, she always makes cooking seem easy. Somehow, she manages to whip up dinner for eight with two kids underfoot while still looking as glamorous as a movie star. Not surprisingly, she has always been baffled – if not a bit irked – by my culinary ineptitude.

It wasn't such a surprise then that for our wedding present back in 2000, Dori, my matron of honor, presented Avo and me with a gift certificate for a cooking class at Peter Kump's New York Cooking School (now the Institute for Culinary Education). It was a thoughtful gift with an underlying message – now that you’re married, you might try cooking rather than ordering out.

"I want your most basic class," I said when I phoned the cooking school.

"We don't recommend the Cooking 101 class. It's about how to boil water. You know that already," the woman on the other end of the line said.

Why offer a class if you don’t recommend it? Too ashamed to set her straight and admit that I didn't, in fact, know how to boil water, I signed us up for their second most basic class, "Techniques of French Cooking."

I pictured myself preparing crepes and quiche. And drinking lots of French wine.

For the next six weeks, the cooking class served as a built-in date night. With Avo by my side helping me and with an instructor guiding us as we whipped up gourmet delicacies, I could do no wrong. Since the school had purchased all of the ingredients for us and presented us with the appropriate cooking utensils, all we had to do was show up and follow the recipes.

We learned how to prepare warm lentil salad, to roast a chicken and to flambé bananas. We sautéed potatoes, grilled vegetables and braised lamb shanks with juniper berries and rosemary. Avo hoped the class would magically transform me into Julia Child. But, like Cinderella at the ball, as soon as I returned home, the spell wore off.

As soon as the course wrapped, I looked at a potato and my mind went blank.

“What do I do with this thing again?”

Now, more than nine years later, I have finally begun to put some of the information I learned in the class to good use.

Last night, I broke out the binder they gave us at the cooking class. I have held on to it for all this time hoping that it would one day come in handy. Skimming through the recipes we tried out in class, I settled on veal cutlets piccata and diced potatoes sautéed with persillade.

One stop at the local gourmet shop changed my mind about the veal (it cost $21.99/pound!) I opted for chicken cutlets piccata instead.

Chicken Cutlets Piccata

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound chicken cutlets
1 lemon
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced parsley

1. Dry the cutlets with paper towels. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the cutlets and saute until cooked through, turning once, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Remove to a warm serving dish.

2. Add the lemon juice to the pan and scrape the bottom with a wooden spoon. Cook 30 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat and gently swirl in the butter. Add the parsley and any collected juices from the meat platter. Pour the sauce over the cutlets and serve.

All in all, it was quite easy and turned out quite tasty. Still, it was hard not to feel somehow cheated because we were eating chicken rather than veal.

Even more problematic -- my timing was so off so that we didn't end up eating the potatoes until hours after we had finished the chicken.

Sorry, but you'll have to wait until my next blog post to hear about that fiasco. Please be patient!


Bernie Bernstein said...

It's Me, Mom - Isn't the price of veal outrageous? That's why, when ordering it in a restaurant, you get a vey small portion. Recipe sounds good with chicken. I can't wait to hear what happened to the potatoes!

Bernie Bernstein said...

It's Me, Mom, again - Since you mentioned kale a day or so ago, you must be in your "kale phase" as Dad would say. I came upon this easy recipe which we might try. Maybe you will also. It sounds easy and delicious.

Toss torn 3-inch-size pieces of kale with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until crisp and crunchy. Sprinkle with a bit of grated Parmesan cheese.

Search for additional kale recipes.