Wordchick Goes To Cooking School, Kind Of, Sort Of

After reading The Sharper the Knife, The Less You Cry, I suddenly wanted to quit my job and go to culinary school. I mean, really... how alluring. Living in Paris, attending the world renowned Le Cordon Bleu, eating the freshest (chemical free) fruits, vegetables, meats, drinking some of the best wine in the world, and learning how to create pure magic in a kitchen! Sign me right up!

But wait... I've seen too many episodes of Hell's Kitchen. So no. Scratch that. I don't want to be a chef. I do, however, have huge respect for chefs and, actually, all restaurant workers who do what they do with consciousness. I think I will just let them do what they do, and I will continue to appreciate their work.

After a bit of deeper thinking, I decided maybe I should simply take some local cooking classes, to learn to cook for the pure enjoyment and better health benefits of it all. Not everything has to be a new career path, whispered inner voice. I wanted to learn how to be a better cook, but also I wanted to learn much more about the history and culture of food. So I asked my good friend Google for some advice.

An online search led me to a full spectrum of workshops at Sur La Table, and I wanted to sign up for every single one of them! Authentic Mexican at Home. Fast, Healthy Foods. Chinese Soup Dumplings with Bon Appetit Magazine. I signed up for 10 Skills for Great Holiday Cooking, and then I signed up for Homemade Ravioli Workshop, and then right as I was about to sign up for French Croissants 101, I thought perhaps I better actually go to one of these classes to decide whether I even like them before signing up for another. Well, I liked them. And I signed up for French Croissants 101 after all.

I was really quite nervous going to that very first class. The closest Sur La Table to me is 58 miles away on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. The Magnificent Mile. Upscale. Posh. Not really me at all. But I love the city, and I love beautiful quality cookware (high end enameled cast iron cookware is pure art, in my opinion), so off to Sur La Table for cooking class I went.

I was grouped with a young married couple, Ed and Erin, who normally do active things like running together, but Erin is pregnant with their second child and they were looking for something they could do together during the pregnancy. They were really friendly, and I no longer felt at all odd trekking to Sur La Table alone while everyone else there was part of a group. Going solo has never really been an issue for me, so I don't know why I even felt hesitant. Silly, really. Together we learned some new things (how to dry brine a turkey) and cooked up some mighty tasty dishes:
  • Arugula Salad with Roasted Squash and Pomegranate
  • Perfect Cranberry Relish
  • Herb Brined Roasted Turkey
  • Lump Free Gravy
  • No Fail Potato Mash
  • Pumpkin Tart with Whipped Cream
All of the ingredients are pre-measured and placed on a tray at the workstation. Cooking really is a breeze when someone else does all the prep work!

I learned a lot from this first class. For example, it is a snap to make salad dressing and cranberry sauce from scratch. I probably will never buy bottled dressing and gelatin-like canned cranberry ever again. So easy to make at home and so much better tasting. I never would have thought to put squash and pomegranate in my salad or to mash my potatoes with a ricer (I didn't even know such a thing existed). I was even using my meat thermometer incorrectly. Did you know you aren't supposed to stick the thermometer through the breast but rather in the dark meat of the thigh? And guess what else? It is a big no-no to use your sharp chef's knife to scrape the chopped vegetables off the cutting board and into the pot. Hah! Who knew?

Letting the turkey rest

Plenty to go around at the end!

The best thing about the workshop is that it wasn't just one of those things you go to and then never revisit. I have since made the cranberry relish twice, and I dry brined an organic locally grown chicken from Happy Life Ranch in Beecher, Illinois, following the Sur La Table recipe. Best chicken I have ever had. I am not exaggerating here.

The herb brined chicken I roasted at home over the holidays

My own roasted chicken paired with Butternut Squash Risotto from Skinnytaste


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