#27: Cooking lessons

Posted by Megan on November 5th, 2011

As you learned in my Cookbook Lottery blog– I’m not a cook. Aside from toast and oatmeal, I generally don’t cook

Oh Puffins. I love you, but I just can't take your torture anymore!

much of anything.

I’m so lazy that I often would rather go hungry than prepare a meal (this is a great diet plan, by the way) and I’ve been known to eat Nestle Quik in lei of a meal…. The powder…. With a spoon…. Straight out of the container.

My laziness has been enabled by a borderline addiction to cereal. Since I find cooking to be a time consuming annoyance, I would eat cereal. Lots of cereal. Sometimes more than five bowls a day. Then, after the cereal binge, I would feel guilty and try to exercise my tummy back to empty. Often this would end in a post run barf-fest. David once witnessed me at one of my lowest points barfing up undigested Puffins on the sidewalk of Lake Nokomis. I bet the squirrels thought it was Christmas!

I recently gave up cereal and granola bars. I’m happy to report I have been simple-carb clean for more than a month! (except candy corn, but I count that as a vegetable). While this has done wonders for my energy level, sleeping habits, general happiness and my waist line, it has made dinner much more complicated. Instead of a bowl + raisin bran + milk, I now have to actually prepare a meal. This usually ends up being a sandwich of some kind, or an arbitrary collection of snacks (a crapload of grapes, a crapload of almonds, a crapload of hard boiled eggs).

Check out my letter jacket. I told you I was part of Team Awesome!

Now that I’m almost 30, it’s time to learn to make a meal that does not have the directions on the back of the box. I was lucky enough to be invited to a cooking class at Cooks of Crocus Hill with some work friends. It was the perfect opportunity to hang out with Team Awesome (that is our official name – I can prove it!), but also learn a few culinary skills that could hopefully translate into my kitchen.

When we arrived at Cooks of Crocus Hill we were greeted by a lovely group of women, then escorted to the bar. SCORE! Work friends and wine are a great combination. Too bad we can’t work Mad Men style and have a cocktail (or 5) at work everyday. I’m pretty sure that would make everyone a bit more forgiving and understanding…. and perhaps sleepy.

Aimee is all smiles as she receives her wine.

I got my glass of wine and then mingled a bit. The kitchen was beautiful. The large commercial appliances were a bit intimidating, but booze helped calm my fears. After speaking to several friends, I realized that I was by far the least experienced cook there. Typically this would cause me to panic. AHHHH they are going to realize I can’t even make box brownies right! But, I’m getting much better at trying new things so I quickly shifted my attitude towards viewing the experience as an opportunity. By surrounding myself with so many fabulous chefs, I’m bound to learn a thing or two.

The beautiful kitchen was a about nine hundred steps up from the glorified dorm kitchen I have at my house.

 

Our group awaited our orders.

We were split into four groups. Each of us would make one component of a gourmet meal. We would be overseen by head chef Mary. She is a real life chef who has worked in fancy restaurants across the country. My group was assigned the main dish; pork chops. I had a super star team: Melissa, Molly and Susan. It was immediately clear that Molly was the most experienced chef, and Melissa was the natural leader. This was great news for me. Susan and I were the worker bees. I was initially asked to chop ginger. I’ve never even seen a ginger root before, so I gracefully asked Molly if we could switch tasks so I could be in charge of chopping garlic. Thankfully Molly agreed, then demonstrated the art of chopping ginger.

I’m very familiar with garlic thanks to my extensive experience hunting vampires.

After much measuring, chopping and seasoning, Melissa and Susan got started simmering the sauce. Molly and I moved on to the meat. After seasoning both sides we put the chops on the stove to sear. Chef Stephanie came around to check on us. I’ve burned so many things in my life, I’m always apprehensive and end up flipping things too early. My pancakes always end up with mushy middles and my breakfast sausages lose their casing due to my tendency to err on the side of undercooking. Just as I reached for my tongs to flip, Mary stopped me. “Whoa there, those pork chops aren’t even near ready to roll over,” she urged. She then demonstrated a trick that most likely everyone else learned in Home Economics; the meat will surrender when it’s ready to be flipped. As I tried to yank up the undercooked meat, it stuck to the pan. Apparently when it’s all seared and ready to go, it will unstick itself, like magic. Who knew? (probably you, but not me!)

I told you not to flip me until I'm good and ready!

 

The group busy at work.

After searing the meat, we popped the pork into the ovens where they baked for about 30 minutes. Meanwhile the rest of the groups were busy at work preparing their culinary masterpieces. One unlucky group was tasked with butchering a duck! Another was using a flame thrower that oddly resembled the iconic Contra weapon.

I'm so glad I was not on a team where decapitation was required.

 

You can either use your laser to defeat the spiky zambonie or you can flambé dessert – your call.

Our team took a break while our chops were cooking and reflected on how fun the experience was. We felt empowered by our ability to pull together a five star meal despite our limited skill level. The help and guidance from the chefs was pivotal, yet for the most part, we prepared the meal by ourselves. Why didn’t we do this every night at home? Oh, right – because then we’d have to test and select an outstanding recipe, then go shopping for all the food, then we’d have to prep all the ingredients and afterwards we’d have to do sinks upon sinks full of dishes. No wonder my mom stuck to hamburger helper and tomato soup!

After our chops were fully cooked, I volunteered to be the butcher. Because the pork chops were so huge, they needed to be chopped into smaller pieces. I’ve always been known to be aggressive with a knife (not in the plastic surgery way) so this fit my skills perfectly. I hacked away at the meat until it was broken down into 20 beautiful servings.

Chef Stephanie gave me some butchering advice.

Now it was time to eat. Our meal opened with a fantastic duck appetizer. We also had a fancy salad, some green beans, the star pork chops and a ginger ice cream dessert. The food was fantastic. It was definitely one of the top ten meals I’ve ever had.

This looks much more appetizing than a bowl of Frosted Mini Spooners!

 

Food, wine and friends. It doesn't get better.

 

The fact that I participated in creating it made it even better. I admit that my contributions were minor, yet I was proud to be part of it. Maybe if I’m ever able to hire a menu planner, a personal shopper and a dishwasher, I could become a decent chef after all.

 

  • © 2011 Megan Steil