Tuesday, January 26, 2010

'Tis the season for comfort food

Last week, I spent the most lovely evening at a cooking class at Season's Catering in Ventura. I went prepared to don my favorite apron, roll up my sleeves, and get to chopping. But instead, I got to sit (which after a long day, was pretty sweet). We sipped wine, asked questions, and watched as owners Daisy Mastroianni and Gaby Moes walked us through a laundry list of recipes. And then (now this is the best part) we got to taste each one! It was like school meets gourmet dinner; I was happy as a clam, learning and eating at the same time.

The class I attended was called Back to Basics. What I loved about the class is that Daisy taught us a few basic recipes, and then showed us a number of ways to build off of them. And for most of the recipes, she explained how we could adapt them for the crockpot (the home cook's best friend). Daisy was fun, engaging, and relaxed in the kitchen; and there was an atmosphere of warmth and a sense of community amongst our group of 10 (most of whom started the class as strangers).

We learned how to roast a chicken, turn that chicken into stock, and then how to turn that stock into a delicous chicken noodle stew.

We learned how to make a basic marinara, and then used that marinara as a base for 3 other decadent pasta sauces. The basic marinara, which Daisy simmers for 4-6 hours on the stove, puts all jarred marinaras to shame- it is thick and sweet from reducing for so long (not from added sugar).

My favorite variation was the spicy tomato sauce - kicked up with crushed red pepper and pancetta, making for a sweet, spicy and unctious sauce. The fat from the pancetta made it purely divine. The vodka cream sauce was sweet from the addition of shallots, and good enough to drink. We had a salad of mixed greens topped with pistachios, dried cherries, gorgonzola, and a spicy vinaigrette. We sampled spiced pork chops with homemade apple sauce...a simple, easy meal and the ultimate comfort food.

Some interesting pointers I garnered from Daisy:
-When roasting a chicken, you can play around with the veggies and herbs, but always make sure to season with salt and pepper, and put onions both inside and around the chicken.
-You can tell the chicken is cooked through when the thigh pulls away from the breast.
-You don't have to tie the the chicken legs together before roasting (some people think it cooks better when left untied).
-When making chicken stock, don't add peppers because it will make the stock bitter.
-When making a vinaigrette, never use 'light' olive oil - it comes from the dredges of the barrel and as Daisy puts it, "It's light on taste." Always use extra virgin olive oil.
-When cooking thin-cut boneless pork chops, always pull them off the heat before you think it is done because it will continue to cook for a few minutes off the heat.

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