Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Really Inspired Kitchen

Dangerous areas for most people:

Nuclear waste dump
Mobile home park during a tornado
Lady Gaga's closet

Incremental danger zone for me:

School fundraising auction

I know I should flee, screaming.   But there is no escape.  It's a fiscal disaster waiting to happen, and I'm helpless to stop it*.

But on the plus side, I get some really good stuff.   Like the incredible experience I had yesterday.

An Inspired Kitchen 
welcomes you to
A Cooking Class

Join Lela for a cooking demonstration and lunch**

We arrive, and discover warm-from-the oven banana bread, coffee and fruit waiting for us on the patio.

We adjourn to the kitchen, and repeat the first line of day's mantra*** as a group:

"I will enjoy my lunch today and forgive myself the extra calories.  I supported my school!"

With that affirmation, I am already halfway besotted with this woman when she kicks off the class with a killer mocha sauce, saying as she dramatically pours the gorgeous liquid into a pitcher, "I'm a heavy cream kinda girl."  

Me, too.

She then turns to the homemade pizza dough, proofing yeast, sifting flour, and dispensing invaluable tips at the same time.
  • Use a ratio of 1 part bread flour to 2 parts all purpose flour.  It gives you a stretchier, more toothsome dough.   
  • The food processor with the dough blade is the lazy kneader's best friend.   And you can grate all your cheese with the Cuisinart, too!  
  • And for heaven's sake buy a pizza cooking tray.  It's the only way to have perfectly crisp crust at home.

There's bacon. And onions.   And fromage blanc and creme fraiche.   And gruyere cheese.  Lots of gruyere cheese.    Wow.

Mushrooms soak up slabs of butter, then fruity port and ricotta cheese.  They disappear under piles of fresh mozzarella and are folded effortlessly into tidy calzone pockets.

Spinach is no longer quite so healthy after joining two cheeses, egg yolks and flour in the gnocchi dough.  Then she coats the pan with butter and drizzles more butter on top of the perfectly cooked nuggets.  "Makes it a little toasty on the edges....ummmmm!"  Also ummmm? The simple sauce of sauteed fresh tomatoes, butter (!), salt and pepper.

More words of wisdom fly by:
  • Let the dough rest and dry out before cooking it.  It turns gnocchi from a delicate mess to a hardy survivor.
  • Don't have the water at a rapid boil.  It can break the gnocchi.
  • Never pour cooked gnocchi into a colander, or all your work will be for nothing.   This is a job for your slotted spoon!
Oh god.  More bacon.  And wine.  And heavy cream.  And cheese.  Carbonara?  Yes, my friends.  Carbonara.  With olive oil toasted breadcrumbs, lemon zest and parsley on top.  We reach for the tumblers of ice water because we have salivated out all of our bodily fluids.  "Don't worry.  You don't have to eat it every day.  Like once a month, maybe!  And remember the mantra!"

We have internalized the mantra as the cappuccino souffle takes shape.  Chocolate.  Espresso.  Grand Marnier.  Cognac.  Sugar.  Eggs.   She breaks from the whisking to hold up a ramekin in our faces.  "Eggs love butter!  Wipe the edge of the ramekin completely clean if you don't want a muffin topped souffle.   Parchment paper cones?  Bah!  Just clean the darn edges!"

We nod.  We will clean the darn edges.

The souffles go in the oven, and lunch is served****.  It is, in a word, spectacular.

Fortunately, the bidding has been closed on this item, or I would have been breaking out out my checkbook in gratitude.    I live for danger like this.

Lela's Amazing Salad Dressing

2 Tbs. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
a good squirt of honey
1/2 c. basil infused olive oil, or extra virgin olive oil plus some finely chopped basil
salt, pepper and a splash of Tabasco sauce

Combine lemon juice, vinegar and honey.  Whisk in olive oil in a steady stream until well combined.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco.

If you want the recipes for the items with cheese, heavy cream and liquor, make a substantive donation to the school and we'll talk.  To be notified of Lela's upcoming cooking classes, email her and ask to join the mailing list.

*As is my husband, since they now run the whole thing ONLINE and I can bid after he's gone to bed!! Whoo hoo!
** Understatement.  Should have read:  Watch in awe as Lela performs culinary miracles and groan in ecstasy over every bite of a meal that rivals that of any chef in town.
*** It is helpfully printed on the front page of our handout, which also includes detailed recipes and instructions for how we mortals can do this at home. 
**** It is as if the Food Network fairies were at work.  Lela had premade the complete meal ahead of time, except for the carbonara and the gnocchi sauce, which went from the stove to our plates instantly.

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