Wednesday, September 4, 2013
A version of this article also appeared in the Tennessean.
Cooking classes aren’t just for acquiring new kitchen skills. Sure, you’ll learn something, but there’s so much more to them. Food connects us to cultures, traditions and family, and there’s always something new to learn. I love seeing what lense of experience and knowledge an instructor puts on a class. You could take the same class from three different instructors and come away learning very different information from each based on their backgrounds, experience and interests. And whatever the class, you’ll get to enjoy delicious food.
A recent local cooking class picture with Chef Paulette Licitra (far right).
If you’ve never taken a cooking class, there are a few things to know. First, there are different formats. Generally speaking, hands-on classes allow you to dive in and actually prepare a meal. Demonstration classes usually mean you’ll watch while someone else does the work. Some classes are a combination of the two. Sometimes you’ll enjoy a full meal; other times you get just a taste. You can usually tell what kind of class it’s going to be by the cost. Because the hands-on, full-meal classes require more food and take more staff time, they’re usually more expensive. Make sure you ask what kind of class it’ll be on the front end so you’re not surprised.
Cooking classes are also great entertainment. It’s a special person who can cook and teach a class in an educational and entertaining way. Consider a cooking class for your next date night, girls’ night out, Mother’s or Father’s Day gift, or corporate team-building activity.
One of my favorite local cooking class experiences has been with my friend Paulette Licitra, an Italian chef in Bellevue. Paulette’s classes cover all manner of Italian dishes (and other cuisines, too), and she often teaches how to make fresh pasta. I’d always wanted to learn how to do this but was intimidated by the process. Taking a class to learn seemed like a good ideas since so much of the process is done by feel.
The first time I took one of Paulette’s classes we made “handkerchief” pasta, which is small squares of dough that fold over on themselves in the sauce like cloth handkerchiefs. During another class we made homemade ravioli with a variety of fillings. Both were surprisingly easy, and oh-so delicious.
We’re lucky in Nashville, to have a variety of cooking class options. Following is a roundup of some of the ones I’ve been tuned into lately. If you know of others not listed here, please leave a comment below. Buon Appetit!
Nashville Cooking Class Roundup
Green Hills Mall, (615) 292-5066
Recent class topics have included cooking with wine, making pizza, knife skills and making ice cream. Technique classes are free, include a demonstration of the featured dish and take place at 3 p.m. on Sundays. Call for upcoming classes.
Nashville Farmers’ Market
Grow Local Kitchen, http://www.growlocalkitchen.org
Located in the Market House of the Nashville Farmers’ Market, the Grow Local Kitchen offers hands-on and demonstration classes. They recently held a preserving class called “Yes You Can!” Upcoming classes include “Biscuit Lab” and “Cornbread Lab” (multiple dates) where guests will learn tips for mastering these Southern Staples. Visit the Grow Local Kitchen site above for details.
Lisa Donovan is pastry chef at Husk Nashville and mastermind behind Buttermilk Road Sunday Suppers, a pop-up dinner series. Her September 8 Southern Basics Cooking Class sold out fast. The class was set to cover biscuits, pie dough and hand pies. Sign up for email updates on her website for future classes.
Whole Foods Salud Cooking School
Green Hills, http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/service/salud-cooking-school
Hands-on and demonstration classes cover topics like “Hosting the Perfect Tasting Party,” “Summer Bounty: Corn,” and “India: A Cook’s Tour.” Reserve your space and get more information online.
Italian Cooking Classes by Chef Paulette Licitra
Paulettes classes hold six people and last about three hours. Recent class “The Tasty Italian” featured Fresh Tomato-Ricotta Tortellini in Tomato-Herb Pesto Sauce, Baked Cod with Crispy Parmigiano Crumbs & Parsley Sauce and Creamy Ricotta-Pinoli Tart w Limoncello-Soaked Strawberries. Winter class schedule will be released soon. Visit her website to sign up for her email list.
The Casa Azafran Community Center
Nolensville Road, www.facebook.com/CasaAzafran
Led by Conexión Américas, Casa Azafran is a nonprofit collaborative committed to the social, economic and civic integration of immigrants of all cultures. Cooking class topics have included Colombian cooking by the owner of Latin restaurant Guantanamera, and making homemade pizza by Carlos Davis from Riffs Fine Street Food truck. A website launches soon. In the meantime, visit the Facebook page for class information.
Gordon Jewish Community Center
Belle Meade, www.nashvillejcc.org
Cllass topics have included cooking with herbs, making Shakshuka (a popular Israeli baked egg dish that I blogged about), and how to bake Challah bread. Classes are open to any interested community members. Visit the website for more.
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Every season I seem to have a favorite item from the garden. This spring it was lettuce. I couldn’t believe how incredibly easy it was to grow. I also found it really gratifying to harvest right before dinner. More than other vegetables, there’s really something special about super fresh lettuce.
This summer I’m into my herbs. I planted a standalone herb garden for the first time, and I’ve got rosemary, oregano, basil, dill, cilantro, thyme, mint and parsley growing. I’m especially pleased with my parsley.
Italian flat leaf parsley is easy to grow, it doesn’t bolt when it gets hot like so many other herbs (bolting means flowering quickly, which causes bitterness), and it tastes great. If you don’t have much space, parsley grows well in a pot on a patio, too. Just make sure it gets lots of sun and water.
A wonderful use of my garden parsley: Parsley Pesto
These days I’d call myself an adventurous eater, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that I really embraced parsley. Olives were also on that list, and now I think of them as a real treat to have with cocktails or as a snack before a meal. I add parsley, with its bold, herbaceous flavor, to pasta, salads, soups, pizza, meats, egg dishes, casseroles, sauces and more. It adds a touch of freshness to everything it touches, plus it makes everything look better. That bright bolt of green is the first thing on the plate that catches your eye.
A recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine featured a parsley pesto on the cover, and I was intrigued. I love chimichurri, an Argentinian condiment composed of parsley, vinegar and oil, served with grilled steak. But I’d never made a pesto out of parsley before. Since I’ve got a bumper crop this year, I decided to try it out.
The dish originally called for spaghetti, but since I had orzo — a toothsome pasta shaped like a large grain of rice and popular in Greece — I decided to give it a Greek flavor profile. I used feta instead of Parmesan, and added in cherry tomatoes and lemon juice. I liked that the original recipe called for almonds instead of pine nuts. Pine nuts are expensive and can go rancid quickly, plus I rarely have them on hand. Almonds, for me, are just the opposite.
Orzo with Parsley Pesto is easy to make with minimal cooking time so the kitchen doesn’t get so hot. It would also be great served cold as a summer side at a cookout. To make it more of a main-dish meal, add shrimp or grilled chicken. For a vegetarian take, I served this with a fried egg on the side.
I also want to give a plug to the immersion blender or stick blender. I have a KitchenAid model kind of like this one that comes with a food processor attachment. The bowl is small, so I had to make the pesto in two batches, but it’s so much easier to clean than my enormous 14-cup food processor.
Cheers to parsley, the star of my summer garden. I’m excited to see catches my eye this fall. Stay tuned!
Orzo with Parsley Pesto
To keep extra or purchased parsley fresh, trim the stems then place the bunch in a glass of water and keep it in the fridge.
1 lb. orzo
½ cup unsalted, roasted almonds
4 cups packed fresh flat leaf parsley leaves (small, thin stems are fine - just remove the thicker onces)
¾ cups chopped chives or green onions (green parts only)
¾ cups olive oil
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon wedges for serving
Cook pasta in salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving at least a cup of the starchy pasta water.
Meanwhile, pulse almonds in the bowl of a food processor until well-ground. Add parsley, chives, oil and cheese and pulse until desired smoothness is achieved (I like mine with some texture). Season thoroughly with salt and pepper.
Toss tomatoes with pasta, then add pesto. Starting with pesto, scoop spoonfuls into pasta, alternating with tablespoons of reserved pasta water until the right consistency is achieved.
**Please note: This post also appeared in the Tennessean today.
Monday, July 15, 2013
I’ve always loved egg salad. My mom used to make it for us as a kid, and it was one of my favorite lunches to take to school. I can remember watching her make it. She’d just pull a bunch of stuff out of the fridge and whip it up – no recipe, no measuring, no fuss. Simple and delicious.
When I moved to Chicago and started packing lunches for work, I started tinkering around with the recipe. I began adding various ingredients because I thought they’d taste good, but also to stretch the recipe without just adding more eggs. I’d add white beans or chickpeas, carrots, celery, onions, sunflower seeds, horseradish, tomatoes, pickled veggies, sometimes spinach or greens, herbs – literally whatever I had on hand. My “egg” salads became “egg and crunchy veggie” salads very quickly.
The one thing that hasn’t changed is the Hellman’s Light Mayo I’ve always included. Don’t even talk to me about Miracle Whip. The binder is always 4 parts mayo to about 1 part Dijon or spicy mustard.
Following is a variation I made this weekend, and I really think it’s one of the best egg salad recipes around. Check out my post on the best way to hard boil an egg, if you have questions. I compare three popular methods. And I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my hens for the eggs! I just love these birds.
Hope you enjoy!
Yield: 4 open-faced sandwiches
Prep Time: 10 minutes
I modify this recipe based on what I have on hand. I've added black beans and cilantro instead of white beans and dill, and tossed in additional items to this recipe like capers, celery, horseradish or olives.
4 hard boiled eggs
3-4 carrots, chopped small
1-2 green onions, green and light green parts only, chopped (to taste)
1 can white beans, rinsed and drained
fresh parsely, chopped
fresh dill, chopped
1/2 lemon (or less)
1/4 cup light mayo (I use Hellman's)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
salt and pepper to taste
4 slices whole wheat bread
tomato slices for serving, optional
Peel eggs, and place in a medium bowl. Smash with the back of a fork. Add next five ingredients and mix to combine.
Squeeze about half of lemon juice from lemon half. Add mayo, mustard, salt and pepper to the edge of the bowl, mixing mustard into mayo together a bit before tossing with all ingredients. If mixture doesn't look too runny, add remaining lemon juice.
Toast four slices of bread and serve open-faced with egg salad spread on top. Delightful with a tomato slice.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
*A version of this post also appeared in the Tennessean.
I love learning about new foods. A few weeks ago my friend Kristin introduced me to Shakshuka, a spiced Middle Eastern tomato dish with poached eggs. The day I first tried it, she brought over the spiced tomato base and we cracked in a few of our fresh eggs (we have three chickens – more on that here). Our group effort turned out great – after one bite, I was in love. This is my kind of dish both because of its taste and flavor but also because it’s a snap to make.
Shakshuka, it turns out, is an Israeli dish often served during Passover* when leavened bread and many grains are avoided. It’s filling, flavorful and has meal versatility in that it works for breakfast or dinner.
The dish starts out with a base of sauteed onions and peppers. Next, sweet paprika, cayenne and cumin are added to the skillet to toast for a minute before a can of whole tomatoes goes in. As the tomatoes and their juice reduce, a thick, velvety sauce develops. When I serve this for dinner I add in a can of chickpeas, too.
I like using nonstick skillets when I’m not cooking with meat for easier clean up (stainless steel skillets promote better browning in proteins.)
This is how I toast the spices. Clear a space in the veggies and make sure they are in direct contact with the skillet. I immediately mixed them together to keep them from burning, but kept them from the veggies for a full minute.
In go the tomatoes and chickpeas!
Now the magic happens: toss in some feta, then crack several eggs into little nests that poach in the sauce. Before serving, sprinkle with fresh-chopped cilantro and a squirt of hot sauce (I like Sriracha) and you’ve got yourself a delicious dish and a gorgeous presentation.
Look at those sweet little eggs. Thanks ladies! (that’s a shout out to my hens.)
This happens in about 3-4 minutes once you cover the dish.
Your eyes will be the first to feast. As you tuck into the poached eggs, the warm yellow yolk flows into the nooks and crannies of the tomato pieces. You’d think Shakshuka was the national dish of Italy since its main elements carry the colors of the flag – bright red tomatoes and peppers, white poached eggs and green cilantro.
I’m a big texture person and I love how much is happening in this dish. The thickened sauce studded with softened feta and hunks of tomatoes, the tender egg whites and firm chickpeas, the crisp cilantro and caramelized onions.
Shakshuka would be great anytime of year but it’s especially nice in the summer since it comes together so fast and requires only short use of one burner. It’s also composed of mostly pantry staple ingredients, uses just one skillet and is on the healthy side with its focus on veggies and spices for flavor instead of much fat. Can’t ask for much more than that!
Thanks so much to Kristin for turning me onto this dish. Cheers to good friends and good food!
Yield: 4 servings
Total Time: 30 minutes
In many version of this recipe once the eggs are added the dish finishes in the oven I found the skillet method to be simpler and just as effective, plus you don’t have to heat up your oven during the summer.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes with juices
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
salt & pepper to taste
1/2-1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Once it’s shimmering, add onions and cook until beginning to turn translucent, 4-6 minutes. Add pepper, and cook until it starts to soften, 2-3 minutes more. Add garlic, stir to combine, then immediately clear a space in skillet to add spices, allowing spices direct contact with skillet. Toast for 1 minute.
Add tomatoes and cook until sauce thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Add chickpeas and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in feta.
Using the back of a spoon, make a pocket to crack each egg into. Cover and cook 3 to 5 minutes until eggs are just set. Don’t overcook.
Serve immediately with cilantro and hot sauce. Enjoy!
Recipe adapted from Melissa Clark’s recipe in The New York Times May 3, 2013.
*Please note there is some debate on whether or not chickpeas are kosher for Passover.
Monday, June 24, 2013
Whenever I learn something new, I get so hungry I could literally eat my fist. Intense meeting? Starved. Networking event? Ravenous. Starting a new job? Bring on the cheeseburgers! It reminds me of being a kid and going to a museum on a field trip. By 10:30 I’d be so hungry I couldn’t wait to get to the cafeteria!
You can imagine how hungry I was today after I finished my first day at McNeely Pigott & Fox Public Relations! I was hired as the director of digital services at MP&F/d, a new digital services division within the agency where I’ll be creating digital strategies for existing and new clients. A wonderful opportunity! You can read more about it in my first blog post on the MP&F Engage blog.
I’m very much looking forward to digging into the new position. It was very sad to leave Just A Pinch though, but this opportunity was one I didn’t think I could pass up.
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, that’s for sure! I traveled to Ireland, Fort Myers and Brunswick, ME. I turned 30. And now the new gig. Sheesh!
Wanted to provide this quick update since it’s been nothing but crickets on this blog for awhile. Speaking of the blog, there might be exciting news on that front in the coming weeks as well. Stay tuned.
Anyone else get hungry as all get-out when they are thrown into something new?
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
By now you’ve probably seen at least a couple food trucks around Nashville. Seems like there are more each day! These creative mobile food purveyors serve anything from donuts to Thai food and appear everywhere from festivals and breweries to downtown spots for the lunch crowd and late night service near bars. However, unless you follow them on Twitter or Facebook, it’s hard to know where they’ll be and when. Until now!
The Nashville Food Truck Association has launched a smart phone app, which allows patrons to view all food truck locations and event dates in one place. To celebrate, they’ve named this May the innagural “Nashville Street Food Month.” The goal is to get everyone to try a food truck during the month, and use the app to help locate your favorites. AND, they’re offering $1 off a $10 purchase or more, if you download the app and mention it upon checkout. Pretty neat.
The app is available for Apple and Android devices. Here’s a quick tutorial on how it works. Once you launch the app, the first screen you see is a listing of all the food trucks that are part of the NFTA. When you tap one of the names, you can get a description of what kind of food it offers, and where it’s planning to be in the coming days.
Next, click on the “events” tab at the bottom and you’ll see a list of events/locations/festivals/etc. along with times detailing where various trucks are planning to be. The events go as far in advance as the food trucks program it. Currently the schedule is open through June 20. One neat feature is the pre-order option. Some of the trucks allow you to order your food and pay in advance, then just head over to the planned location for pickup. I haven’t tried this out yet but it’s definitely a nice option if you’re trying to grab something quick around lunchtime.
The last tab is “maps.” Originally I thought this would track the truck’s location in realtime (that’s not true). Instead, it picks up the day’s location and pins it on a map. This is helpful since sometimes the locations aren’t immediately familiar to me, like if they’re assembling at a business somewhere that I’m not familiar with. (See “Cogent – HMG” example above. I don’t know where that is.)
I haven’t taken advantage Nashville Street Food Month yet, but I intend to soon! Even though I follow a lot of these trucks on Twitter, having them all in one place will definitely make the process more efficient.
The only critique I can give the app is that, at least on iPhones, if you keep the app open over night, the map doesn’t immediately update with the location of the next day’s food trucks. So if you were looking at Monday’s locations and then check again on Tuesday without closing it, on Tuesday the Monday locations will still show up. A quick fix to this is to just restart the app each time you use it and you’ll be enjoying a delightful gooey sandwich from the Grilled Cheeserie or a Mexican delight from Yayo’s OMG in no time.
Has anyone used the app yet? What do you think? What are your favorite food trucks so far? For those not in Nashville, do you have food trucks in your town? Have you used any other apps to track food trucks?
Curious to hear everyone’s thoughts!
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
Earlier this month my friend Amanda invited me to interview Susie Fogelson, VP of Marketing at Food Network and a judge on Next Food Network Star. I jumped at the opportunity. Susie was in town to speak at a NAMA (Nashville American Marketing Association) event, and to welcome her to town NAMA hosted a cocktail reception and dinner at Flyte. I went for the interview (more on that later) and they kindly invited me to stay for dinner.
One of the great benefits of working in the food industry has been the delightful meals I sometimes get to enjoy! But I haven’t posted much of that here. I thought I would this time to showcase the artistry of dishes at Flyte from Chef Matthew Lackey. They were really incredible. The flavors, presentation, wine pairings – it was a fantastic evening. I’ve only been to Flyte once and it was a few years ago. Honestly, with all the new restaurants popping up around town and in East Nashville alone, I haven’t paid as much attention as I should to the more established hot spots.
It should be noted that Flyte, which opened in 2006, has an amazing happy hour deal in addition to its fine dining-dinner menu. From 4:30-7:30 Tuesday through Saturday they offer drink specials and their lounge menu at 25% off. I happened to be there last night for drinks and grabbed a pic of their lounge menu below (there’s a dish called Bourbon Barrel Pastrami Fries on the menu, people!). It’s also posted online, here. That happy hour time alone is amazing. Any place that offers deals on Saturdays is a gem to know about! And 7:30 is generous, too.
So, to the dinner. When we finally sat down to dinner a few weeks ago, Chef Lackey treated us to quite a spread. In addition to each small plate, there was a wine pairing. It was a feast for the eyes and the palate. The meal was held in a special dining room that opened to the kitchen so we got to keep up with the action.
First up was a panzanella (bread) salad with shaved Brussels sprouts, paired with a sparkling white wine.
Then we had a dish of albacore tuna, sticky rice porridge, daikon radish, kohlrabi.
Sunday, May 12, 2013
Happy Mother’s Day! Do you know that I think you’re a really great Mom? Because you are. And I really love you. I also really love your carrot cake recipe. I didn’t even know you had a carrot cake recipe until we spoke a few weeks ago and I mentioned I was going to a carrot cake party and needed a recipe. And, like the awesome Mom you are, you came through with this gem! It’s a great recipe. The cake is spiced just right, it stays super moist, and the cream cheese frosting was just tangy enough and not too sweet. I’ll definitely make it again.
I ended up making these cute little stuffed cupcakes instead of a regular cake, and I thought they were so cute, I wanted to share them with you. I dedicate this post to you, Mom. You really are the greatest. Happy Mother’s Day!
A closeup of my concoction.
How sweet are these?!
For everyone else, here’s the recipe. Hope you enjoy as much as I did!
Peggy's Carrot Cake Recipe
This recipe is the perfect balance. It's not too sweet, is earthy, spicy and moist, and has the perfect complement of tangy cream cheese frosting. Thanks for the recipe, Mom!
2 c white sugar
1 1/4 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla
2 c flour
2 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
3 c grated carrots
1 c chopped pecans
1/2 c butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
4 c confectioners sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 c chopped walnuts or pecans
Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare your pan, 9x13" for a sheet cake, 2 9" round pans for a layer cake or use a cupcake tin for cupcakes.*
Beat together eggs and sugar. Add oil and vanilla. Sieve together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt and add to egg mix. Stir in carrots and fold in pecans. Be gentle with your mixing - if you overmix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, the cake will come out tough.
Pour batter into prepared pan(s). Bake 40-50 minutes or until cake raises and pulls away SLIGHTLY from sides. Don't overbake.
Let cool about 10 minutes, then cover with foil and let cool completely.
For the frosting, cream butter, cream cheese and add vanilla. Add sugar until spreading consistency is reached. (I didn't need to add any extra.) At this point you can either add the nuts to the frosting or save them to decorate the cake with. My mother loves cream cheese icing and will often double this recipe so she has plenty.
*To do what I did, fill a muffin tin with about a 1/2-inch of batter and bake for 10 minutes or so. Then you can stuff them with icing in the middle and on top. Once I had them filled, I rolled them in crushed pecans and walnuts.
Sunday, April 28, 2013
If you’ve never made a recipe from this blog, make this one. How’s that as a dramatic way to start out a post?! These are, hands-down, the best homemade veggie burgers I’ve ever had. They’re flavorful, have great texture, stay together when you cook them and are super easy to make. What more could you ask for in any recipe, really?! I got the original recipe from a user on www.justapinch.com (I work there – read more about that here) but I changed up the seasonings and added an egg to bind it all together.
I served them open-faced on a piece of whole grain bread with mustard, sprouts, and topped them with avocados. They’re also great crumbled over a salad or as a regular burger on a bun.
I had some friends over for dinner the other night, no one among them a vegetarian, and I made these. Everyone loved them! If that isn’t a testament to a great veggie burger, I don’t know what is.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
*This article also appeared in the Tennessean, here.
I have two hens clucking around my backyard at this very moment. When I tell people this, even my smartest, hippest friends, I get the funniest looks. “Chickens?!” they exclaim. “Why? For their meat? Aren’t your neighbors bothered by the rooster crowing?” I sigh. (Neither of these things are true – read on.) Hey – I’m not judging. Before we got these hens last fall, I had the same questions. But what really strikes me about these questions is how very disconnected we all are from the food we eat, myself included.
Look at those beautiful birds!
Case in point: I grew up in a small Ohio town, east of Columbus. The middle school I attended was near one of Ohio’s largest egg farms. When the weather was warm, the part of the bus ride past those chicken farms – long, one-story hen houses stretching out side by side for acres – was nearly unbearable because of the smell. We kids would try to hold our breath for as long as we could as we went by. And this was from a bus out on the street. I can’t imagine what it was like inside those buildings. Granted I was a kid, but not once did I connect that the eggs we bought at the grocery store likely came from a facility like that, and I imagine neither did our parents.