Cooking is an essential piece of being eco-friendly. If you can’t cook, what do you eat? Well, you buy processed microwave meals that come in ridiculous packaging, processed cereal, processed snack foods, processed, processed, processed. Even if a packaged meal or snack is organic, under USDA regulations, they can still contain preservatives and tons of salt.
And you know how I have this love affair with the Farmers Market? Well, it’s kind of a useless venue unless you know how to cook. Or else you are stuck eating apple pies and spelt bread for every meal.
So I decided I needed to take my cooking to the next level. I wanted a cooking class that didn’t just show you how to make one meal. I wanted something comprehensive, so that when I go to the Greenmarket I can look at what is offered and think, “I can blanche and sautee that with some butter,” or “That would go well with some rosemary.”
I found my perfect course at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), located at 23rd St and 5th Ave. It’s an intensive five week course, with five hours each Sunday. It’s a bit pricey, at $550, but if you do the math, that’s $20 per hour of instruction with a chef that teaches professional classes as well. And it’s also an investment. You can save so much money by not eating out in New York. Just ask Cathy Erway. I had to sign up a couple months in advance for the Fine Cooking I course, so I almost forgot that the first day was Sunday. Where’s my reminder email, ICE?
Anyway, at 10 AM when the class started, 10 out of the 12 people were there. One girl left a few minutes in, saying she felt sick. More like hungover, as her greasy breakfast sandwich and hangdog look would suggest. I, for one, felt great! I had started my drinking at 7 the night before, and was in bed by 11. Lame? Maybe. But at least I didn’t have to bail on the first class.
Chef Dan started the class with a lecture, giving us some basic information while we nibbled on bread and butter. Then we moved over to to the demonstration table. He passed around herbs for us to smell and taste, then showed us how to properly care for a knife (hone, don’t sharpen it, every day), and then showed us the finer points of chopping.
Wow, I had no idea how bad I was at chopping vegetables. You have to get them all the same size, or else they will cook unevenly and burn. There are special techniques for doing so, and it’s different for potatoes, broccoli and onions. All I usually do is hack at a pile of veggies until they looked edible and then pile them in a pan.
Also, there’s a difference between dry and wet measuring cups. I always use what I have around, but now I know the little cups are for dry stuff, and the big one is for wet stuff. Ok, was that obvious? Not to me. I also found out that you must slice garlic, not crush it, if you don’t want it to burn. Crushed garlic is only good for infusing dressings or the like.
So much to learn! My notebook was already brimming with notes when we split up into three groups for knife work. We practiced chopping carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, garlic and onion. Some of this would be used in the gazpacho, and some was just for practice. Chopping is harder than it looks, that’s all I’ll say.
At the end of our workstation, John, a handsome 30-something, concentrated hard on his food. He was hungover, he admitted. But his julienned carrots were precise. Probably because he wasn’t gossiping and chatting like the girls.
“What school did you go to?” One of the women at my table asked me. “Washington and Lee,” I told her. We chatted for a bit longer. I said bland things about the school, yes I liked it, good program, whatever. Finally John said, “You know, I went to Washington and Lee.”
“No way!” I said. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
“I wanted to see how it played out,” he said. Hmmm. A man of mystery over here….
The whole time, Chef Dan walked around, joking with us or berating us. “Oh whatever, it’s fine,” he would say when someone produced a bad vinaigrette. “Just fix it!” But if you chopped your potato unevenly…oh, you were in for it.
Sonia, who is a graduate of the pastry school, hustled about, replacing our bad strawberries, and making pound cake and whipped cream to go with the fresh fruit.
Heather who stood next to me at my station cringed with me as we saw food waste and plastic containers get shoved in the trash. “Do they not recycle?” she said, aghast. “Oh, there must be some gardens that would love to get their hands on all this for compost,” I replied.
We made a vinagraite and a delicious herb butter while the huge pots heated on the stoves. Next came the fresh fruit, which we macerated by soaking in brandy or orange juice. The broccoli we blanched to preserve the green color. Finally we were ready to sautee the broccoli, potato cubes, and lamb chops. On top of the lamb chops we placed coins of the herb butter to melt.
When the food was ready, it was beautiful. We arranged everything on a platter, took it in, and then served ourselves buffet style. Everyone came together at the long dining table, pouring red and white wine, admiring the variations on the vinaigrette recipes and herb butter recipes. We ate quickly – those 4 hours of cooking had whet our appetite. When we were done, we found a table full of little pound cakes laid out for us, with a wealth of fruit: strawberries, raspberries, orange pieces, and blueberries with fluffy whipped cream.
After dessert was done, everyone cleared out pretty quickly. I stuck around for a bit to finish my glass of wine and talk with Chef Dan and two girls from my group, Angela and Moira. Chef Dan revealed that he would love to recycle, but since they don’t own the building, they have no place to keep all of the recyclables. It’s a real pity.
Finally I had to go. I knocked back the rest of the wine and grabbed my purse and recipe book to meet my friend down town. Well, actually it was a date. We met at the High Line, which is a park built on the remnants of a raised train bed. It was sweltering outside, so once we walked to the end we retreated into the shade for drinks….
To be continued?