There is nothing like the satisfaction of knowing when you’ve come up with the perfect gift idea. That is how I felt the day I offered my friend, Marra, a cooking class for her 18th birthday. I could tell by the look on her face that there was nothing better I could have given her.
Last week, Marra and her friends joined me at the lake house for their first lesson. Five minutes before they arrived, I sat down at the computer and jotted down a few quick thoughts. Little did I know how central these words would be to our cooking class.
Rule #1. There is nothing to be afraid of. Granted, I realize that the kitchen doesn’t scare me, a new recipe doesn’t scare me, cooking along side a famous chef doesn’t scare me. But, trust me. I know fear. I understand that fear is not always rational. (Marra’s mother, Lisa, made certain to reveal to the girls that for the first 50 years of my life, I was afraid to light a match). Neverthless, when something is holding us back, we need to figure out how to rise above it. (I am proud to say that I lit a match on my 50th birthday and have been lighting them ever since.) That is going to be my goal with Marra and her friends today. I am hoping they will walk out of my kitchen with the confidence to tackle any recipe, anytime, anywhere. I plan to show them a bit of technique. I will show them how to look at a recipe and decide if it sounds good to them. I want them to know how to follow a recipe, but also how to modify it.
Sure enough, the first words out of Marra’s mouth as she walked into kitchen were, “I’m so scared”. That is why I immediately read them rule #1. As you can see from the picture, they weren’t scared for long.
Al Dente Pasta with Hot Italian Sausage, Artichokes and Sundried Tomatoes
1 cup oil packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced. (reserve oil)
1 lb. Italian Hot Sausages
16 oz. frozen artichoke hearts
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1.5 cups chicken broth
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus additional for garnish
8 oz. water-packed fresh mozzarella, drained and cubed.
1 tsp. salt and pepper to taste.
Heat the oil reserved from the tomatoes in a heavy, large frying pan over medium-high heat. Squeeze the sausage out of the casing, into the skillet and cook until brown, breaking up the meat into bite-size pieces, about 8 minutes. Transfer sausage to a bowl. Add frozen artichokes and garlic to same skillet and saute for 2 minutes. Add broth, wine and sun-dried tomatoes. Boil over medium high heat until the sauce reduces slightly.
Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook for 3 minutes, until “tender but firm”. Drain pasta. Add pasta to skillet with sauce, sausage and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with mozzarella, parsley and/or basil and extra Parmesan.
(this recipe was inspired by Every Day Italian, Giada DeLaurentis)
I discovered that the commentary when cooking with teenagers was priceless, especially when it came to getting the sausage out of the casing.
“What do we do with the skins” “Oh, it’s coming out of both ends” “This is so much fun”
“Monique, aren’t you proud of me?”
My words of wisdom while we made this dish were:
1. When using a non-stick pan, only use a wooden or plastic stirring spoon.
2. Don’t be afraid of the meat. (I was told by Marra’s mother that she repeated this phrase frequently as she made the dish on her own)
Next we made Al Dente Fettuccine with Alfredo Sauce.
They could not believe how easy it was to make one of their all-time favorite pasta dishes. The comment when sampling this dish was, “it tastes even better than anything I”ve had in a restaurant, and I made it myself.” Of course I told them that you can add a number of tasty addtions to the basic Alfredo Sauce: Eg. Shrimp, peas, cubed turkey, ham, sweet red pepper, chicken, etc. etc. etc. Also, I like to show that you don’t need massive amounts of cream to make a great Alfredo Sauce.
Al Dente Fettuccine Alfredo
1 bag of Al Dente Pasta (we used Egg Fettuccine)
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for pasta. In the meantime, melt butter in skillet over medium heat. Add cream. When cream begins to thicken and small bubbles appear, add Parmesan, nutmeg, 1/2 tsp. salt. Cook pasta, testing after 3 minutes. When pasta is done to tender but firm perfection, drain. Add to skillet with Alfredo sauce, stirring until pasta is coated. That’s all there is to it. Emily’s quote at this point was, ” I really like these noodles. I like the texture. They’re not really thick.” (So glad she noticed!)
Rule #2. Never eat standing up.
For desert we made a Blueberry Cobbler that Marra loves and has enjoyed many times over the years. She never imagined that anything this good could be so easy to make. This super simple, healthy and delicious desert is from Jane Brody’s cookbook. I first had it in Colorado while visiting my high school friends, Jill and Jim, more than 20 years ago. Thank you, Jim, for turning me on to this great recipe. I usually double or triple this recipe.
Jane Brody’s Blueberry Cobbler
2/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1.5 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2/3 cup skim milk
2 Tbsp, butter, melted. (I melt the butter in my baking dish, in the oven, while oven is heating up.)
2 cups blueberries. (I used frozen blueberries this time, but result is much better with fresh, so from now on this recipe will be reserved for summertime enjoyment when blueberries are in season. On the other hand, I will make it with frozen peaches in the winter.
1. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in the milk and mix the batter until smooth.
2. While oven is preheating to 350 degrees, melt the butter in your glass or ceramic baking dish in the oven. When melted, pour in batter and sprinkle blueberries on top.
3. Bake cobbler in oven for 40 minutes, until top is lightly browned. Size of baking dish will depend on whether you double or triple recipe like I do. Single recipe requires a 1 or 1.5 quart baking dish. Cobbler is great for breakfast or brunch as well as for desert.