12 things we learned from our Molly-mandated cooking class

Increasing concerned about her parents’ unanticipated empty nest glee, our 18-year old daughter Molly took action (as has been her lifelong habit).

“I’m sending your Christmas present early,” she said firmly. “You guys have got to stop eating popcorn for dinner!”

We laughed.

“I’m serious,” she said. “It’s not healthy.”

Then she sent us two tickets to a “Cooking for Two Made Fun and Easy” class offered through Fox Valley Technical College’s Culinary Arts program.

“Fun” and “Easy” have become our empty nest mantras. So, obediently, and with great amusement, we showed up this past Saturday.

The class turned out to be a revelation. We learned far more than I can cram into this post. I’m going to limit my fascinating tidbits to 12.

But, I highly recommend these classes. I’m going to look for more FVTC cooking demos because Chef John didn’t just show us what we should do when we deconstruct a chicken and stretch it into four meals, he taught us why.

I love that.

So, for all our fellow empty nesters and everyone else looking to brush up on their dinner cooking skills, here’s a little of what we learned. (But, we’re still going to have popcorn for dinner every now and then.)

  1. Amish chicken is not Amish, it’s processed by Gerber, who trademarked the name. For sheer taste purposes, you can buy the cheaper chicken. Pay a little extra for organic if you’re worried about extra chemicals, but it is unlikely to affect the taste of your dish.
  2. Pepper skins are the hardest to digest. Roast them and peel the skins.
  3. Use cold water to make soups and stock. If you use hot water, the fat will go right to the top and you don’t want that.
  4. If you’re going to use a chicken base, look for the paste, not the dried crystals. Check the ingredient list. The first ingredient should not be salt. (Yikes!)
  5. Use a pot that is heavy all the way up the sides (not just on the bottom) for an even transfer of heat. Stainless steel is best.
  6. White rouxs thicken more quickly than brown rouxs. (Also, a roux is equal parts butter (or oil) and flour.)
  7. White pepper has a more intense flavor than black.
  8. If you’re substituting dry herbs for fresh, use about a third. Also, give the dry herbs time to reconstitute. Add the fresh herbs toward the end.
  9. It only takes about four minutes to toast almonds. Watch them carefully because they burn quickly.
  10. Ramen noodles are deep fried and full of fat. You can use Chinese Noodles instead. Blanch them, rinse, drain, cut them and toast on an oven sheet for ten minutes. (For that Asian Slaw we all bring to pot luck dinners).
  11. Anything with fat in it doesn’t freeze all the way through so you can only keep it in your freezer for six months. (Oooops).
  12. Acid seals up the outside of your grain. So, you don’t want to add wine to risotto until the end of the cooking process, or your rice won’t absorb all that creamy goodness.

We’re going to buy a chicken this week, make some stock and a couple of meals. I also promised Vince I’d make risotto, so it’s too bad I’m all caught up on “This is Us.” I could use a little distraction while I stand at the stove stirring rice.

Many thanks to our darling daughter Molly and to Chef John Balistrieri for a tasty and educational morning. We loved it.

If you’re going to learn how to cook Italian, we highly suggest you take a class from a guy named Balistrieri.
He talked about proper knife handling skills and which knife to use, but I’m going to need a whole class on that. My grandpa was a butcher and he used to sharper our knives for us. Without him, we’ve all been sawing away on dull blades. It’s a real problem.
We learned the proper way to deconstruct a chicken and how to use the whole (ahem!) carcass.
The class was very well attended. Apparently, we’re not the only ones firing up bowls of cereal for dinner.
We learned five dishes and dessert and, following class, we got to taste them all. I skipped the frittata due to my lifelong aversion to the taste of eggs, but I enjoyed every morsel of the rest. I’m definitely looking forward to whipping up the Tomato Basil Bisque and I promised Vince I’d make Risotto Tetrazzini withe Chicken and Wild Mushrooms. Yum! (He took notes too. I’ll keep you posted on what he whips up.)

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