Monday, August 31, 2009

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

I finally did it. I attended my first cooking class. Aside from a semester of required Home Ec back when I was a 7th grader, like most home cooks, I have never had any real instruction. I do, however, read cookbooks as if they were novels, watch (or at least collect on the DVR) several shows from the Food Network, subscribe to a few cooking magazines, seek out information and websites online, and of course, ask questions of friends and family when I still can't get it. If you haven't picked up on the clues, food intrigues me. Overall, I simply play a lot, and my kitchen skills (or lack thereof) have been developed through trial and error. There are many things that I may not do in the proper manner, but it works for us. Our plate is never empty.

However, a few weeks ago, a flyer at Kitchen Store On Tenth caught my eye. Tapas and Paella seemed like a great class. I often host and attend get-togethers with just appetizers. The "little bites" of tapas suits this well. And, paella? Well, I must admit that while I have seen it prepared, I have also heard enough bad jokes in sitcoms about poorly prepared paella that I was intimidated. Sure, it is just a rice casserole, but with casseroles there is a fine line between "Hum?" and "Yum." I feared falling face first on the wrong side of that line.

Soon, this old dog was off to the big city to learn a new trick or two in the kitchen. I joined a fast paced, demonstrative cooking class in the beautiful setting of Showplace Kitchens. The instructor drew the class out with quick wit and a true love of cooking. Over the equipment that the sponsor had provided for sale, we sampled the tapas and mingled with others who really enjoy food and shared a desire to create good things. Gathered around the cooktop to check out the paella as the flavors built layer by layer, we asked questions and snapped quick photos as it simmered together into a savory union. The aroma was heavenly and when the dish was finally ready to be served, everyone gobbled it up with gasps of delight. We were sold. Paella isn't that difficult, tastes delicious, and we could prepare it in our own kitchens.

Of course, the next day, I scampered around the city collecting my very own paella pan (although now that I have prepared the dish...and done a bit of online research...I do think that my extra large cast iron pan might have done just as well), and all of the ingredients to duplicate the meal that I had sampled just the night before. The class not only offered me new knowledge in the kitchen, but also brought to my attention a few specialty shops that I have missed in all of my previous food forays. I hit them all (Check out Look's Market, if you get a chance.) and filled my car with goodies while my mind went into planning mode. Before I even hit the interstate for the drive home, I had scheduled my own tapas and paella dinner party for the end of the week.

Friends arrived at my door a few days later to share Sangria, Baked Garlic Olives with Crusty Bread, Marinated Mahon with Roasted Red Peppers, and Crystal Glazed Almonds. I had the tapas arranged on the kitchen table and the other couple gathered around and chatted while I tossed first one ingredient, and then what seemed to be ten thousand more into the Chicken and Shrimp Paella. We sipped our cocktails while it simmered, and moved to the dining table to spoon hearty helpings of the rice into our bowls. A squeeze of lemon and a sprinkling of fresh parsley finished off the still steaming dish, and silence fell as we all dug into what really was a delicious dish.

I suppose that you expect to see the recipe for the paella posted next. Sorry. I had considered it, but all of the photos of the paella (and truthfully everything else that day) were taken with poor lighting and no tripod. My focus was on eating, not getting a perfect shot. We did eat well. The pictures sucked. I will wait to share the non-recipe (really it is just throwing things into a pan) for paella when I have a semi-decent photo. Instead, I will share one of the tapas that almost stole the show (and, yes, I know that its photo most likely won't be accepted at Tastespotting, either). While I had never tried a marinated cheese, Mahon drizzled with garlic and herb infused olive oil and draped with a piece of roasted red pepper is absolutely divine. Try it with some crusty bread to sop up a bit of the marinade, and you may not even care if there is any paella on your plate or not. Really, "little bites" are good On My Plate.

Marinated Mahon with Roasted Red Peppers

1 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar (I subbed dry white wine)
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
3/4 teaspoon whole cumin seeds, lightly toasted
salt and pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
16 slices Mahon cheese (Manchego also works in this recipe)
strips of roasted red bell pepper

Whisk together oil, vinegar, scallions,shallot, and cumin seeds; season with salt and pepper.
Add the garlic; set aside.
Arrange cheese slices on serving platter.
Pour marinade over the cheese; place a roasted pepper strip on each slice of cheese.
Cover and let stand at room temperature for about 1 hour before serving. (Serves 8.)


  1. Yum.
    I only take issue with the word "old," which you certainly are not :)

  2. Well, bummer! I want paella!

  3. Sorry. :) It will be awhile before I can post the paella recipe. The instructor implemented my own method of cooking and used the printed recipe as a guideline, but really cooked by feel. He made several adjustments, and I made notes, but sharing a printed version of the final process is going to require a few more run-throughs in the kitchen. It will be worth it, though. My first attempt was very well received. :)


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