I love to cook and people love to eat: It is a match made in heaven. But teaching others how to cook raises the power of food to a higher level. So we were thrilled when we were recently invited to teach our first cooking class. I can report with all modesty that it was a great success.
A group of north Indy women meet on a regular basis to share stories, laughter and learning. Earlier this year they asked if I would come and show them a little bit about cooking. They didn’t have to twist my arm. On a cold Friday morning in March, a dozen women gathered as my oldest son and I walked them through a few easy, and absolutely wonderful appetizers.
We started with a simple favorite; Bacon-Wrapped Dates. For those who were squeamish, holding raw bacon was a barrier, but the once cooked, it was one of the favorites among the group.
We begin by wrapping pitted, whole dates with strips of thick, wood-smoked bacon. Avoid sugar-cured bacon as the dates provide enough sweetness. Wrap the bacon around the date a time or two and cut the strip with a sharp knife. You should be able to wrap two dates with each strip of bacon. Push a toothpick through the bacon and date to secure the meat.
Lay out the dates on a cooking tray with an edge to prevent the bacon fat from running off into the stove. Cook for 30-35 minutes at 350 degrees. Pull them out of the oven half-way through the bake to ensure both sides of the bacon are browned. Do not over-cook. The bacon should just begin to get crispy.
Caution: Do not eat hot! The molten centers will scald your mouth. Seriously, serving these sweet and salty nuggets at room temperature is best for everyone involved.
While the first group finished the dates, a second group began mixing the filling for a Blue-cheese crumble, Chopped Pecans and Cranberry Salad on Endive leaves. This is a simple dish that has a tangy punch.
Mix together the three ingredients in roughly equal measure, giving more space for the Blue Cheese. Cool in the refrigerator as long as over-night. If you are preparing for the same day, you can cool it as you wash and separate the Endive leaves. Endive is not a lettuce but comes from the Chicory Family and has a nice snap and slightly bitter and peppery flavor when you bite into it raw. As you tear the leaves off the stalk working toward the center, you will have progressively smaller leaves. Spread them on a platter, distributing the sizes to give a nice variety to your presentation.
After the mixture has cooled, spoon out small helpings into the Endive leaves and drizzle very little but high quality Balsamic or Modena Vinegar on top. Serve as soon as possible. These are a crisp and cold appetizer that is sharp to the tongue and very satisfying.
Our final appetizer was an experiment. When we announced this, it threw off the women in the group. They came expecting exact measurements and step-by-step guidance through a meal. But my son and I don’t cook that way. We aren’t baking a cake, we are creating a dish. The act of creation is part experience and part experiment. In truth, we were really making a type of tapenade, but on the fly and without any directions. We had the ingredients, an idea and that was all.
We first asked them to cut French bread on a bevel, lay each slice out on cookie sheets and drizzle with high-grade olive oil. We toasted the slices in a 350 degree oven until just brown. While some of the group completed this task, others were slicing cherry tomatoes in half, chopping green and black olives, crushing garlic, and stirring together in a large bowl and adding a touch of olive oil. We added freshly ground pepper and set aside. A few of the women carefully sliced fresh mozzarella. A couple others sliced fresh basil. Another group was separating prosciutto.
Once the bread was finished, we set up an assembly line. First a single slice of prosciutto was placed on the toast, followed by a thin slice of mozzarella. This was covered with a spoonful of the olive and tomato mixture and a few slices of basil. The final dish was beautiful and it was fun to see how an experiment could taste so good.
While the class was fun and the women enjoyed both the process and the end product, the best part of the day was working with my son to teach the class. We’d never done anything like that before and it flowed easily and was enjoyable for us both. Our give and take made the time go quickly and provided a young, fresh face for the women to enjoy. It was a fun experience and we would do it again.
We agreed that, given more time and more than one oven, we could easily teach the group how to do a more complex meal, including something as difficult and time consuming as Boeuf bourguignon or a Herb-roasted Chicken.
We are certainly up for the challenge!
Be Brave & Eat Well!