I take a cooking class and get drunk on olive oil

I haven’t taken a cooking class since Home Ec, so when a group of my girl friends decided to host a get-together at the Whole Foods demonstration kitchen, I was excited.

The evening’s theme was Spanish tapas, and our chef Hillori explained that tapas were small bites eaten in bars and were traditionally made on large platters and served with toothpicks. Establishments used the honor system; at the end of the night, you’d bring up your pile of toothpicks to be counted so that you could pay for what you ate.

Luckily, we had no such system tonight to keep track of the amount we ate, otherwise my toothpick pile might have looked more like a mountain by the end of the evening!

We started by making prosciutto, manchego and fig tartines. We combined butter with fig preserves and spread over small pieces of baguette. Then, we topped those with prosciutto (can also use Serrano ham) and pieces of manchego cheese (a hard cheese that Hillori cleverly sliced with a vegetable peeler). Once plated, the tartines were drizzled with olive oil and topped with salt and pepper.

We then made a few things to accompany some of the later dishes: almond and parsley salsa verde, and lemon and garlic aioli. We made piquillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese and served them with the salsa verde, then garlic shrimp with sherry and fresh parsley. Lastly, we sampled spicy chorizo served with the aioli for dipping.

I felt like I was on the set of a cooking show from the Food Network, except this time, I could ask the chef a question and get an answer right away, it was great. I kept leaning forward in my seat to get a better look at the food preparation, forgetting about the ceiling mirror that offered a better view.

Everything was rich and delicious, and I love that the class forced me to step outside my comfort zone and try things I normally wouldn’t. I used ingredients that I would never think to buy, or use. And I found several uses for the parsley that’s growing rampant in the garden right now.

On all the dishes, olive oil was used in abundance, something that bothered me at first, but I told myself to go with it. When in Spain… right? Besides, the liquor license for the demonstration room was still in the works, so we couldn’t yet sip on Spanish wine while we did our cooking. By the end of the night, I was so stuffed with the flavors of Spain, I felt like I had drank a bottle of wine myself.

The girls and I made a date with Hillori for another class focusing on making quick and easy desserts, and my sweet tooth can’t wait.

An Abundance of Condiments

I don’t know if other people are like this, but I love to look in other people’s refrigerators. Maybe it came from a job I had for a few years selling closet organizers in which I walked straight into someone’s house and into their closet, skipping all formalities and getting right to the heart of things. After all, you can learn a lot about a person from their closet, and I’m sure, also their refrigerator.

But you can’t just go to someone’s house and open their refrigerator on your own, right? The polite thing to do is wait for the “help yourself,” or, “it’s in the fridge” comment, after which, it’s ok to take a peek as you’re getting out what you went in there for. But don’t linger too long, or you’ll be revealed as a snooper. (On a side note: I found a site called FridgeWatcher that has pictures of the outside and inside of people’s refrigerators across the world. Fascinating!)

Of course, there are certain friends and family members where you’ve already skipped past that stage. Where it’s ok to be hanging out in the kitchen and, with a pause in the conversation, randomly open the fridge to check out what’s there. Continue reading

Not your average egg McMuffin

Thin bun egg McMuffinThe “thin buns” bought last week have been put to a few good uses. Last week, when I was craving a cheeseburger, Jan and I went to the store for some ingredients. Often we buy two rolls from the supermarket bakery since we hardly have a need for a six-pack, but they were out, so I went to look through the bread aisle. I’d seen the thin buns before and wanted to try them, especially since each bun is 100 calories, compared to the 250+ calories of the regular hamburger buns. Less bun equals more bacon in my mind. There were a few varieties, we tried EarthGrains’ 100 % Whole Wheat, which were a hit with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and of course, bacon.

This morning we cooked bacon and eggs, placed them on the bun, topped it with sharp cheddar cheese and put it in the toaster oven. Excellent! I will be finding more uses for the thin buns.

Filet mignon and trials in blue cheese dressing

Blue cheese dressing and filet mignonBlue cheese is a bit too smelly for me, but I love blue cheese dressing. I don’t buy blue cheese dressing. It’s one of those things like Rocky Road ice cream that just doesn’t live in our freezer/refrigerator out of fear that it would get eaten in one afternoon. I only have it when going to a restaurant, ordering a salad, and getting it brought to me on the side.

So when Jan brought home a wedge of blue cheese from Fresh & Easy, explaining that it was marked way down due to its impending expiration date, I had an idea. I combined the blue cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and garlic chives from the garden. It passed the taste-taste with a carrot stick, so I put it in the refrigerator to marinate a few hours before dinner.

When it was time to serve, it was still too thick to serve as a dressing, so I added milk to it, even though the recipes I borrowed from online didn’t call for any. Reviews were mixed: Jan said it was still too “blob-ey,” maybe something I could improve with some more milk, or by putting the dressing in the food processor. There is still some of the cheese wedge left, so I may try again. But on another note, the filet mignon (also nearing expiration date and marked way down at the store) was delicious.

Lazy night nacho supper

Lazy night nacho supperWith everything under the sun blooming in the fields nearby, allergies have left us both feeling sniffly. Last night was the perfect time for a TV dinner. Jan tried out some organic ground beef that was on sale at Vons and cooked it with garlic, onion, cumin and chili powder. The beef was added atop a bed of tortilla chips, along with refried pinto beans (from the can), grated sharp cheddar and Colby Jack cheese, and sliced black olives. After a quick spin in the microwave, the nachos were topped with a spoonful of low-fat sour cream and Bobby Salazar’s salsa. It was so good I’m still feeling guilty about eating them lying on the sofa with my feet up.

An open mind, and mouth, for oysters


Jan shucks oysterLet me start by saying I’ve never been much for raw oysters. Jan loves them and actually convinces me to try one every so often, but I feel their greatness is wasted on me. If they’re considered delicacies and here I am thinking they’re only tolerable, I’d rather save the slimy mollusks for those who truly appreciate them. 

However, one recent experience put the oysters in a slightly more favorable light. Visiting our friend Lucy in San Francisco, Jan and I thought we should take advantage of a gorgeous day and go for a drive through Marin County. Jan wanted to return to an oyster farm we’d passed on a prior trip – and Lucy was also an oyster fan who was thrilled about the chance to eat oysters fresh from the ocean. 

We started our Saturday at San Francisco’s Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market to get picnic ingredients. At the Sur La Table there we were in search of the tool we would need later, more specifically, an oyster-shucking knife, since the place we were visiting only sold oysters and visitors were supposed to shuck the oysters themselves. An employee directed us to a knife and oyster-holder contraption and said this was made for the job. Having no experience in oyster-shucking, we took his recommendation and headed north. 

It was a beautiful drive that seemed worlds away from the city we just left. We stopped in a market in Stinson Beach for the last few necessities we couldn’t get at the farmer’s market –Tapatio, white wine and beer – all the while our appetites grew steadily. 

Setting up the picnic


The parking lot of the Tomales Bay Oyster Company was packed, and the smells coming from each picnic tables’ barbeque was like a walk through an international food court. Next to us, one group prepared pot stickers and a spicy soy dipping sauce while their oysters cooked on the barbeque. On the other side, a group of friends pulled out a trio of freshly made salsas from a cooler brimming with food. 

Trying out the proper technique


Jan returned with a bag of one dozen oysters in each hand, and I read over the oyster-shucking instruction sheet. We tried the fancy Sur La Table tool, but soon realized it wasn’t going to get the job done. Lucy and I went to find an expert, worried they would probably have a thing or two to say about our knife. 

After quietly grinning and calling our tool “worthless,” we got a lesson from one of the oyster farmers himself, who generously lent us his knife – something purchased at a hardware store, not a culinary boutique. After a little work getting the right technique, Jan, Lucy and I took turns cracking open the oysters with a slight twist of the knife. We tried different toppings, from our neighbors’ salsas to our own Bloody Mary concoction of tomato juice, lime juice, Worcestershire sauce, and Tapatio. When the oysters we’d placed on the barbeque began to open, we let them cool slightly before trying those topped with spicy mayo (mayonnaise mixed with the condiment of the day: Tapatio). 

The face of trying something new


We took our time eating lunch, but we still weren’t able to finish the 24 oysters we’d bought. Between sips of beer and wine, enjoying the sunshine, and shop talk with our picnic table neighbors (comparing barbeque techniques, best toppings, etc.), we’d spent a wonderful afternoon stuffing ourselves while overlooking the calm waters of Tomales Bay. I’m not sure if it was the music, fun-loving atmosphere, or the company, but I’d managed to enjoy an oyster or two. Perhaps the recipe for the squeamish raw oyster eater is to simply shuck the oyster yourself. After all, putting in the effort to pry the thing open and top it with something you’ve prepared did improve the taste. While I don’t think I’ll be at a restaurant ordering raw oysters on the ½ shell anytime soon, I’d definitely go back for the do-it-yourself oyster-shucking picnic any sunny day of the year.