I love cooking… I own over 2500 cookbooks in physical form and probably twice that amount in digital form. When I have a spare moment, I’m constantly reading them looking for techniques or inspiration, or I’m in the kitchen trying things out. Better yet, I’m in a cooking class!
While I was in Houston last week, I had the pleasure to take a cooking class at Sur la table located in the River Oaks Shopping Center. Lead by Chef Samantha Cummings and supported by Chef Willet Feng, they taught the course accompanied by three diligent and efficient assistants. On the menu for the day: Spinach and Apple Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Seared Steak with Béarnaise Sauce, Risotto with Roasted Squash (Butternut) and Sage, finished with a Chocolate Soufflé with Raspberry Coulis.
The class moved at a fairly quick pace, holding my interest… and while the recipes were not difficult, they reinforced the ten skills every cook should know. Thankfully, the assistants rocked the mise en place so attendees spent the time assembling the ingredients, worked on techniques, and time was not “wasted” on the prep. Don’t get me wrong…I love the prep at home; but, not in a cooking class where I’d prefer to learn the course objective. The end result tasted great, and the class was enjoyable. I love cooking classes, usually picking up one or two interesting tidbits along the way, and getting a few great recipes as lagniappe.
The salad and dressing were fantastic and I will likely make them again…I suspect if you spread the dressing on a car bumper, I’d be inclined to eat it! Made with pomegranate molasses, apple cider vinegar, minced shallot, olive oil, salt and pepper, it was simple to emulsify in a jar just by shaking the ingredients together.
The pomegranate molasses, as exotic as it sounds, is a middle eastern ingredient found at your closest international store and most likely your local Whole Foods. It’s all over the internet, including recipes to make your own. The ladies at my table agreed, the dressing was a hit!
As I rarely eat steak, it’s unlikely that I will make it again; however, it was great, if you eat beef. The Béarnaise sauce is something one should always know how to make; I will make it again. It’s considered a “child” of the mother Hollandaise sauce, one of the five sauces in the French “haute cuisine mother sauce” repertoire. The only difference is in their flavoring: Béarnaise uses shallot, chervil, peppercorn, and tarragon, while Hollandaise uses lemon juice or white wine. This recipe called for lemon juice at the end and Chef Willet was quick to suggest I take out my portion before adding it. As I’m allergic to citrus, it was a very thoughtful suggestion…the sauce really took the steak to a new level. Several ladies at my table felt the lemon juice was too prominent and not necessary.
I would make the butternut risotto again… The flavors were really good; however, as with any risotto, it takes time, something I don’t usually have. I did like Chef Willet’s suggestion that it could be cooked for 14 minutes using as much liquid as the rice will take, then spread it on a cooking tray, chill fast, and hold till closer to serving time. Then about 10 to 15 minutes before serving, start adding the chilled risotto to hot broth in a pan and finish cooking till al dente…next, add final ingredients. A wonderful way to cut the cooking time while guests are in your home.
On the other hand, I have taken another risotto class that argues it’s the perfect dish to cook while your guests watch as it’s not complex, requiring no concentration…just time to incorporate the hot broth. So if you have an open kitchen (or your stovetop is on an island), your guests can face you while you cook and carry on a conversation.
Now to confessions, I’m not catholic; however the thought comes to mind, “Father, forgive me,for I have sinned,…” comes to mind. Oh my gosh, the chocolate soufflé was so delicious it was sinful. I’m not often tempted by deserts (after I lost 125 pounds), and never made a soufflé because I’ve always viewed them as temperamental and fussy. So, here’s the deal, I either overcome my fear, or rely on one of my many friends (hey Bob, Glenn, or mom) to cook this for me again. It was so good, I might do both. I love you, mom….
One thing I learned was the preparation of the ramekin or soufflé dish. Chef Sam suggested heavily buttering the dish. Then, using a silicone brush, sweep from the bottom of the dish to the top of the dish to create lines of butter. Next, heavily sugar the dish, dumping out excess sugar. The lines in the butter and sugar help with the lift of the soufflé! Pretty neat, right?! Ok, so I’ve never made a soufflé, and maybe all of you intrinsically knew that…but, judging from the reaction from some of the ladies in the class, they didn’t know that either. The pictures are above in the slider (and yes, we dumped the excess sugar from the dish before adding the soufflé).
Next, Chef Sam preceded to use honey in her whipped cream along with vanilla bean paste. I’ve made a lot of whipped cream in my day; but, I can’t say I’ve made it with honey, ever. I don’t know why, now that I tasted it…delicately sweet, not granular of course, and the honey added a new taste dimension to the whip cream. Interestingly, Chef Sam suggested buying local honey and using it in your cooking as a way to help with allergies. I’m sure if you google local honey and allergies, you may find more information on it. Let’s just say, allergies aside, there is a great reason to use honey instead of sugar in your whipped cream regardless of being locally sourced or not. Thoughts of some lovely Australian honey came to mind as soon as she started adding it to the Vitamix.
The vanilla bean paste added a more concentrated flavor of vanilla to the whipped cream than an extract and bumped the whipped cream to an almost ethereal place. Sometimes the simplest recipes are the best! I didn’t try the coulis because it was made ahead of time with citrus; but, know it can easily be made without lemon juice as I’ve done it before. As stated, just the soufflé and whipped cream were amazing, I can only imagine how great it was with raspberry coulis.
If you’re in Houston and can get to the River Oaks Shopping Center, it’s well worth the time to enjoy a class. Here’s their link for location, hours, and classes offered.
If you want any of the recipes, leave a comment for the one(s) you want, and I’ll post them for all to enjoy as the Chef’s gave me permission!